Sunday, April 25, 2010

Environmental Advocacy 101

Okay. You have written your check, and mailed the contribution to your favorite conservation group. You smile, satisfied with yourself, knowing you have taken a step towards protecting the environment.

But, did you know that there is so much more you can do? Yes, conservation groups desperately need your money. But don’t stop there. As important a tool as your wallet is, your voice and your physical presence are just as vital.

Offshore drilling for oil. The assault on wolves and other carnivores. Declining species of birds worldwide. Climate change. Habitat destruction. More than ever the conservation movement needs you. And it has never been so easy to be an environmental activist. Every major organization has a website with a “take action” page or link. It is as simple as entering your personal information and checking the “remember me” button. Next, click on tabs and links that will automatically send your letter, fax or email to the proper government official. It literally takes under a minute to do this. You can request action alerts to be sent to your e-mail inbox, to keep you abreast of the hot issues. Reaching your representative is just a mouse click away, but in order to truly be effective, please remember to take a minute and personalize the subject heading and the first couple lines of your email This will ensure that it stands apart from the hundreds or thousands of other similar messages that legislators will get on the same subject. Online petitions are also signed in this way. Several years ago, when drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (“ANWR”) first came to the table, environmental groups gathered over a million electronic signatures. Your signature on these letters and petitions is an extremely powerful tool. If you would rather take the time to write a hand-written letter, just remember that since 9-11 the mail system in DC has changed and regular mail is neither timely nor assured to get there at all, so please either fax your letter to the appropriate office in DC or mail it to your legislator’s district office in your area. That way someone will surely get it and your voice will be heard.

Set up an appointment to meet with your local representative in his or her home office. You will probably meet with their staff, rather than the actual representative, but your message will find its way to its destination.

You can take part in marches and rallies. The energy at these events is almost indescribable; and the air is crackling with this energy, born from a common, united cause. Check the websites of your favorite organizations for information, including carpooling options.

Write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper. Politicians pay attention to what their constituents’ opinions are on important issues and this is yet another way for your voice to be heard. Join a Facebook Cause or fan page or follow an organization on Twitter. Sign on-line petitions (Huntington-Oyster Bay Audubon started an on-line petition to help prevent the deaths of raptors at landfills across the country. As the number of signatures rose to almost 5,000, industry reps started contacting us, willing to address the issue!).

In addition, you can also volunteer your time and effort. Help the organizations you belong to with local events and issues. Staff a table at festivals, hand out flyers or volunteer to mail out newsletters. Volunteer to pull out invasive species at your local preserves, monitor nest boxes or other such activities. Join in with other like minded folks and have fun while making a difference!!! Check the websites of your favorite organizations for volunteer opportunities.

Perhaps the most important tool you possess is your ability to vote. Vote for politicians who share your ideals. The League for Conservation Voters has a wonderful website that contains the pro-environmental voting records of your representatives. This will help you with your choice of which candidate best represents your concerns. Remember to vote at a local level also, since these are the candidates who will ultimately decide the fate of the environment right on your doorstep.

Many people do not take these extra steps. One standard reason is time constraints. With the ease of the internet, there is no excuse for that now.

The next time you are debating whether or not to make the extra effort and write a letter, sign a petition, volunteer for a local group or attend a rally, remember that in today’s world of modern technology, it has never been easier to make your voice heard. And then, think about what Margaret Mead once said,

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.”

Indeed, YOU can change the world.

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