Which are the most effective climate change nonprofits?

They aren’t the names you know


Marc Gunther

This fall, just in time for the giving season, two groups of independent researchers set out to identify the most effective nonprofits that are working to curb climate change. Their findings may surprise you.

Giving Green recommends five organizations: the Clean Air Task Force, the Sunrise Education Fund, which is the 501(c)(3) arm of the Sunrise Movement, Climeworks, Burn and Tradewater. Top charities selected by researchers at the Founders Pledge are the Clean Air Task Force (again), Carbon 180 and Terra Praxis. [Note that LucidCatalyst works closely with both the Clean Air Task Force and TerraPraxis]

You’ll immediately notice one thing about these recommendations, which reflects thousands of hours of careful research. With the exception of the Sunrise Movement, these are small, underfunded and not especially well known groups. There are other common themes here, too. Several recommended groups work on removing carbon emissions from the air, which is a crucial but neglected climate solution. These recommendations also reflect a recognition of the vexing problem of energy poverty — that is, the fact that more than a billion of the world’s people lack access to modern energy and deserve to get it; any climate solution that asks people around the world to use less energy is going to fail. Finally, Clean Air Task Force, the only nonprofit to make both lists, supports advanced nuclear power and the capture of carbon emissions from fossil fuel plants — technologies that fall outside the conventional wisdom held by climate activists that solar and wind energy can provide all of the reliable, affordable, low-carbon power that the world needs. They can’t, at least not for a very long time.

You may also note that none of the world’s best-known environmental groups — not the Environmental Defense Fund, Greenpeace, the Natural Resources Defense Council, The Nature Conservancy, the Sierra Club or the World Wildlife Fund — appears on either list.


To its credit, Founders Pledge recognizes one of the toughest elements of the climate crisis, which is that any climate solution must insure that people in poor countries have enough energy to meet their growing needs. It’s highly likely the people in rich countries also will want to use more energy. So we need more, not fewer, clean energy solutions, which helps explains why Founders Pledge is supporting a brand- new nonprofit called TerraPraxis, which focuses on energy innovation, especially advanced nuclear power.

Its analysis of TerraPraxis notes:

Nuclear power is the largest source of zero-carbon electricity in both the US and the EU, is one of the safest and cleanest energy technologies available, and has been scaled up rapidly in the past to decarbonize electricity systems in Sweden, France and elsewhere.

Philanthropic support for nuclear in the US and EU is scant, unfortunately. Support for TerraPraxis would help remedy that.

So would donations to Clean Air Task Force, Founders Pledge’s top climate charity. The DC-based Clean Air Task Force works to influence energy policy on technologies including nuclear power and carbon capture and storage, which are neglected, if not disdained, by the big green groups. (Greenpeace and the Sierra Club are unequivocally opposed to nuclear power.) “Overall, the Clean Air Task Force is the most effective organization we have found at advancing a technology-agnostic energy innovation agenda,” writes John Halstead, a researcher at the Founders Project. Clean Air Task Force has also shown it can work with Republicans as well as Democrats, which will be crucial so long as the US has a divided national government.


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