I Wrote Environmental NGOs About One Big Problem

I knew better but I did it anyway.

Climate change – global warming – whatever – there are a lot of organizations (NGOs) working on this issue. Some, like 350.org, are addressing the direct causes – excess greenhouse gasses – while others, like Sierra Club, are taking on a range of issues related to climate effects and environmental harm.

They are doing important work, but I discovered a problem I felt was important enough for me to contact some of these organizations, actually 436 of them. NGOs may be working hard on climate and related issues, but the problem that I thought should get special attention is greenhouse gasses – CO2 and methane – the cause of global warming, which critically impacts almost everything these NGOs are working on.

I wrote emails requesting that those 436 NGOs consider adding one sentence to their mission statements, something like: “Our organization takes actions that will reduce the production of greenhouse gasses.” I did not see this as a symbolic gesture; mission statements have practical consequences:

  • Staff and members refer to them.
  • There can be a trickle-down affect to members and organization communications.
  • They keep goals front and center – so everyone does not forget WHAT THEIR MISSION IS.

Why I felt I had to reach out to 436 organizations: Most mission statements of these NGOs mention nothing about addressing greenhouse gasses. Incredibly, this includes organizations like 350.org, Greenpeace, Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, Rainforest Alliance. These organizations should, but so should others: All environmental issues that these organizations address are affected by a warming climate.

I wrote twice, because very few responded to the first email, even just to acknowledge receipt. This was the text of my second letter:

Subject: One Big Problem. I wrote late last year regarding a request for your organization to include in your mission statement one sentence, something like “Our organization takes actions that will reduce the production of greenhouse gasses.” Why? Missions have a way of trickling down to membership and others. There’s more: https://onebigproblem.org I would greatly appreciate if you could let me know you received this email. I am writing to over 450 NGOs, one at a time, from my home; I am trying to keep track. Feedback is very much appreciated. Sincerely, Alan Pakaln

I also created a website: https://onebigproblem.org. There I stated another issue I thought worth mentioning: NGOs should collaborate with each other to develop global campaigns addressing global warming.

My expectations were not great, but I received fewer responses than I expected. Here are the results from two attempts: 346 no responses whatsoever. 65 auto responses of “We will get back to you.” None of those 65 got back to me. 27 personal responses – 2 positive, 14 did not appreciate my reaching out, 11 missed the point entirely or ignored my suggestion and instead they stated their mission.

What I learned:

  • Environmental NGOs are not easy to communicate with and offer very little personal attention.
  • When they do read emails, they don’t read carefully.
  • When they say they will write back, they don’t.

The single greatest takeaway: There seems to be little interest or appreciation in engagement with new ideas.

I know NGOs are busy – it’s a tough job – and to survive they must compete for limited funding as well as volunteers. But NGOs need to stop thinking that they are separate entities, fighting the good fight, that their dedication is uniquely important.

It’s going to take a unified effort in order to successfully tackle global warming and its consequences.

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