One Thing You Can Do: Make Your Donations Count

Welcome to the Climate Fwd: newsletter. The New York Times climate team emails readers once a week with stories and insights about climate change. Sign up here to get it in your inbox.

By Susan Shain

You bring your canvas bags to the grocery store. You walk to work. You’ve cut back on the hamburgers (and the cheese plates, too). But you want to do more to fight climate change. Specifically, you want to do more with your money.

You could purchase carbon offsets. Or, you could support politicians who believe in climate change. Or, you could just donate to your favorite green nonprofit. But what makes the most sense?

Though giving is highly personal and there’s no single right answer, Rachel Cleetus, an economist and policy director at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said she would first funnel her money toward politicians — both local and national — who would most likely be proactive when it comes to the climate. That’s because, although we have the technology to transition away from fossil fuels, Dr. Cleetus said, “the biggest stumbling block to bold action has been a lack of political will.”

Rob Jackson, a professor of earth system science at Stanford University and chairman of the Global Carbon Project, agreed. While he said he supported carbon offsets, calling their purchase “the most concrete thing you can do with your money,” Dr. Jackson said they aren’t “changing the system as quickly as we need the system to change.”

There is, of course, an element of risk involved in political donations. Your dollars could ripple outward, helping to incite a revolution, or they could vanish into the ether, paying for a Facebook ad no one clicks on. And, even a dynamic candidate could prove ineffectual once in office.

That’s basically the opposite of a high-quality offset: In that case, you know what you’re getting but the effect is unlikely to multiply.

Still, Dr. Jackson said, “we’re at such a critical juncture” with the climate that he’d take the risk of a political donation.

“What we need today is a way to leverage our funds into greater action,” he said. “If I had just one $500 check to write, I could offset part of my emissions and feel good about that and have done something meaningful. But it won’t change the political layout of our country.”

Politics not your thing? Dr. Cleetus would focus next on grass roots climate organizations — particularly those led by young people. Youth-led groups, she said, bring “moral clarity” to the issue of climate change, which means they could shift the needle on policy and public opinion. “This is really about a shared common destiny for our children and our grandchildren,” she said. “So I think calling attention to their voices is really, really important.”

You could also seek out organizations that focus on food waste, forest protection and restoration, girls’ education or carbon pollution.

These are the areas that Project Drawdown, through analysis of data from research organizations and peer-reviewed studies, has identified as having the “largest global potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions or sequester carbon,” according to Crystal Chissell, the organization’s vice president of operations and engagement.

Whichever path you choose, be sure to tell your friends and family why you’re giving, and encourage them to take whatever action they can.

“This is not a challenge we can overcome as individuals,” Dr. Cleetus said. It’s only “by pooling collective resources, whether it’s time or dollars or political action, that we will get to solutions.”

I was in Plymouth, England, this week to speak with Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old Swedish climate activist who has helped spark a global youth movement. She set sail Wednesday afternoon during a brief pause in the day’s rain. Destination: New York City.

You probably know by now why she is sailing. Ms. Thunberg doesn’t fly because of aviation’s outsize carbon footprint. She takes pains to say that she is not prescribing to others what they should do or whether everyone should give up flying or go vegan. She says she is doing this because she wants to.

There are at least three things on her agenda when she gets to New York City. A global youth strike is planned for Friday, Sept. 20, which she expects to join. The next day, she plans to participate in the United Nations youth summit, along with an estimated 600 others from all over the world. On the following Monday, she will address the United Nations climate summit.

The secretary general, António Guterres, has warned that he does not want world leaders to simply say the right things at the climate summit, but instead make specific commitments to transition away from a fossil-fuel powered economy. Mr. Guterres has repeatedly said that he wants countries to stop building new coal plants and using government money to subsidize them.

What will they actually promise? We don’t yet know. Expect some pledges to bring down their national emissions to net zero by 2050. “This is a big opportunity for those world leaders who say they’ve been listening to us to actually show that they’ve been listening to us, to actually prove that,” Ms. Thunberg told me the day before she set sail.

We spoke on the boat that will be her home for the next two weeks: a racing yacht with solar panels known as the Malizia II. We will update you when she arrives.

Greetings. We got a lot of mail about last week’s item on swapping, sharing and donating household items. A couple of readers pointed out that we could have mentioned the Buy Nothing Project.

They’re right. So, here it is: The Buy Nothing Project is a worldwide network of community “freecycling” groups. People request what they need and others get rid of stuff they no longer want. Groups are closed, so you have to request membership for your area, and you can only belong to one area. Check it out at

Thanks for reading, and see you next week.