Dear Umbra,

I am new to the environmental world, and looking for ways to help and organizations to join. It took me a while to find Greenpeace. I am wondering what other organizations are out there, and my friends (and I’m sure other Grist readers) would also like to know.

Ayla Pinus elliottii var. densa
Naples, Fla.

Dearest Ms. Slash Pine,

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Happily, this is a difficult question to answer, because there are so dang many organizations out there. Welcome, welcome to the bounty of 21st century environmentalism. We’re glad to have you.

You say you want to find “ways to help.” This is a noble ambition, but without knowing more about your particular leanings, it’s tricky to gently guide you in the right direction. There are countless ways to help, from battling unsavory legislation to sprucing up local streams; from leading interpretive walks in city parks to researching corporate polluters. And there are a plethora of (mostly private, nonprofit) organizations out there doing all these things, and more.

Are you a tree-sitter, a letter-writer, or
something in between?

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Photo: Tigger.

If you were attracted to Greenpeace, perhaps you are drawn to so-called “direct action” — things like marches and strikes and standing between a redwood and a chainsaw. Another national group that made its name this way is EarthFirst! (which also, as it happens, offers useful links to various regional and national organizations).

On the other hand, if you just stumbled upon Greenpeace and aren’t sure it’s your style, you might look into some of the other, sometimes quieter groups that have also been fighting at the national and international levels for a long time, including the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council, The Nature Conservancy, and Friends of the Earth. But you must note, dear Ayla: the big, established groups are not the only ones doing important work.

In fact, some people think they have lost sight of that work, and that time, energy, and money are better funneled into smaller, scrappier, local groups. So by all means, investigate what’s going on in Naples too: read the newspaper, ask around, keep your eyes peeled for fliers, meetings, and cleanups and other events. When you see something that appeals, dive in. In these quagmirific D.C. days, acting locally might just be the only way to get anything done.

If you want to poke around for more green groups, there are several online guides, like World Directory and The National Environmental Directory, where you can browse away many an hour. I’ll bet my readers also know of brilliant organizations doing vital work, and will gladly share their ideas in our blog.

Follow the threads that suit your fancy, and you will find the approach to advocacy that best fits your temperament and skills. And don’t delay — this planet needs all the help it can get.