(Image: U.S. Air Force 1st Lt. Zachary West, Creative Commons)

The adverse effects of climate change are already here. Rising sea levels threaten island nations and coastal communities across the globe. Droughts are causing unprecedented wild fires. Extreme weather events are reshaping cities and displacing their populations.

In response to natural disasters, nonprofits provide assistance on a massive scale. Take, for example, the scope of relief efforts in Houston, Texas following Hurricane Harvey. Nonprofits contributed 83.9 million pounds of food and 13 million doses of life saving medicine. The efforts of philanthropic organizations and their donors vastly mitigated the storm’s human toll.

But as the number of extreme weather events increase each year, how can nonprofits keep up?

Regardless of their areas of focus, nonprofits strain under a lack of resources. In order to cope with limited funding, organizations often eschew long-term programmatic planning in order to focus on the here and now. This typical framework (which hamstrings nonprofits’ operational capacity in normal times) will simply not work under the pressing demands of climate change.

There are no easy solutions to this problem. In today’s chaotic political landscape, climate change has temporarily taken a back seat to other hot button issues, including immigration and women’s reproductive rights. Donors passionate about the environment and eager to counteract the negative effects of climate change certainly exist, but this base is nowhere near enough.

Major influencers—including foundations and elected officials—need to take charge, and the nonprofit sector can help by applying pressure on these institutions and individuals to act.

Foundations need to follow in the footsteps of the Ford Foundation, which has restructured its funding priorities to focus on nonprofit overhead, which will permit organizations to plan and grow rather than simply operate in the present. The government also has a vital role to play. Federal funding for nonprofit capacity building is urgent, and the politicization of science must end so that meaningful and deliberate action can be taken.

The challenges posed by climate change are daunting, but the resilience of people dedicated to the social good is enduring. If we work together to bring about large scale institutional change, we can tackle this problem head on.


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