Volunteering Green

EarthDay Mom Carolyn Chase

Movements that are successful in transforming sentiment to action personally, professionally or politically, require organizing leadership and volunteer support. Community volunteers from all walks of life areessential for a culture of continuing environmental improvements toevolve.Explore the realms of how to act locally and how to both motivate othersand stay motivated yourself.

Whether you want basic advice on the range of ways individuals andgroups can volunteer and make a difference for a sustainable future, or you'reinterested in learning how to become a full-fledged political activist,Carolyn Chase can answer your questions.


Q. I'd like to do some volunteer work that's good for the environment,where do I start?

A. Environmental volunteering requires some networking. You also have todecide what area of "the environment" you are interested in. And what thes cope of your interests are.

Here's a quick overview of "environmentalism."

Issues (and laws) are divided into the different key environmental"media" -

Each of these areas has a variety of groups dedicated to reducing pollutionand the environmental impacts of projects on both people and nature.Eachhas a variety of government agencies responsible for implementing andenforcing (in theory) environmental laws and protections. The agenciesareall accountable, in some form or another, to elected, or in some casesappointed officials. In theory, these officials are accountable to thevoters. While many of them are sworn to uphold the common good, the commongood is still often weighted against the environment and sustainability.

Citizen involvement at all levels is necessary to bring aboutenvironmentalchange.

Environmental activism at the local level is most often involved withseeking improvements to or stopping bad projects or moving projects out of places that are environmentally sensitive - such as steep slopes,flood plains, canyons, creekbeds, forests, parks etc. This includes making surethat environmental impacts are properly identified and avoided or in themajority of cases, "mitigated." Mitigation is the practice of trading environmental damage in one place for environmental improvements orconservation in another place. Mitigation is controversial with environmentalists and popular withagencies. When will we actually be able to stop destroying ecosystems? When enough Americans put their politics where their polls are. Almost every poll I've seen shows that about 80% of the general public considers themselves an "environmentalist." But 80% are definitely not voting orspending their money that way! This is why having citizens take their time and trouble to volunteer to help work on environmental issues is critical.

Another major area of environmental activism is helping not only to stop or improve projects, but to help build the region's parklands and protected areas by soliciting private, public and political support for changing aplace's land use category to keep it for conservation. More and more volunteers are working on how to stop "urban sprawl," createtransportation systems that work, increase our energy efficiency and reduceour dependency on fossil fuels. Decisions are made daily that impact thequality of our lives and our environment. Citizen volunteers attending and/or testifying at public hearings and participating in the public process can and do make a difference in helping politicians and other officials make better decisions for livable and more sustainable systems.

Other major categories of environmental activism are: environmental justice, endangered species protections, and pollution and toxics issues.Emerging areas are: sustainability, voluntary simplicity, anddeep-ecology.

Once you've determined your areas of interest, or if you just want to "do something" to help a worthy group, there are lots of groups to connect with.

Environmental groups who identify issues and work on them are organized by country, and then in the U.S. by federal, state and local (city and county) areas. The largest national group in the U.S. is a membership group, theSierra Club with almost 500,000 members in the U.S. and Canada. Other national groups include: the National Audubon Society, the National Wildlife Federation, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Environmental Defense Fund and , the Wilderness Society and there are many others. Some allow individual paying members to vote on the governance and affairs of the organization (Sierra Club), most do not. In the vast majority of these non-profit groups, you pay an annual membership fee, receive a regular publication telling you about their projects and asking for more support - either sending letters, or giving more money.

You can tell, just by that brief list of names, that each has its own culture and approaches.

The Sierra Club and Audubon Societies usually have locally-based Chaptersor Group where you can volunteer in a wide range of capacities and issues.So if you're interested in large, long-established national groups,eitherone of these can be a good choice. For the others, local volunteering isonly available in limited areas, and you can inquire with each group as itappeals to you.

Acting Locally

The vast majority of environmental groups are locally-based effortsformedaround a specific place or resource or issue. To connect with localenvironmental groups, try contacting the Mayor's office in your townand/orcheck with the Parks Department or Recycling program.

The Earth Day Network is linking together hundreds of local groups organizing activities for Earth Day each year. You canvisit their calendar and search for events and groups anywhere.

Virtual Volunteering

More and more environmental groups, both national and local, have some kindof on-line presence - either a website, or members withemailand more and more people are finding that "virtual activism" is startingtoreally matter - especially at the local city and county levels. If youdon't find a local project or group that you can regularly connect with,Ire commend seeking out a local email activist list where you regularly respond to alerts for phone calls, email letters or to attend public hearings in your area.

What do you want out of volunteering?

Make sure you seek out what you are most passionate about and match itwithwhat you are most willing and able to contribute. Some people havespecificskills that are desperately needed by volunteer organizations. Otherswantto learn how to do new things. For me, I wanted to figure out how to dowhat was most needed - regardless of the type of work. I was moreinterested in the culture of the group and was drawn to work where Icouldlearn the ins and outs of various approaches.

When you are asking about volunteer jobs, be as specific as you can about how much time you have and what you are interested in. But I alsore commend dropping by the office, or attending an event or meetings organized by the group. This will give a sense of their culture and approach. Many worth while groups may not even have an office, so you shouldn't let that dissuade you, but you should feel an affinity to their mission and methods.

Also, if you're not sure what "turns you on the most," Earth Day can be a good place to get started learning about environmental issues. I first connected with environmental volunteering by contacting my local recycling group. But I was really more interested in animal habitats and wanted to find ways to make connections with other issues. This led me tovolunteering with Earth Day which provided a means and a time for bringing all the issues together and connecting them with as many people aspossible. In my part of the country, San Diego, California, there is nobetter place to connect with a wide range of groups - and see what they ar eup to with volunteers and projects. .


READ PAST VOLUNTEERING GREEN COLUMNS


Written by: Carolyn Chase.
To send your questions to Carolyn,

Passionately committed to integrating environmental awareness into dailydecision-making at all levels, personal, professional and public,Carolyn has donated moret han 5,000 hours of volunteer service work on a variety of projects and helped recruit and manage more than 3,000 first-time volunteers for environmental service work.

In 1990, she founded San Diego Earth Day, now known as San Diego EarthWorks, a volunteer-based California non-profit corporation. In1995,she help found the Earth Day Network linking together local organizers across the United States and around the world. Carolyn manages and moderates several computer email lists on sustainability, conservation, and Earth Day organizing.She has also served as the Chapter Chair for the San Diego/Imperial County Sierra Club and is currently national Chair of the Sierra Club Global Warming Program Committee, member of the Board of the San Diego League of Conservation Voters and Chair of the City of SanDiego's Waste Management Advisory Board.


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