27 Sep 2017

Here's why YOU need to give climate groups a 'kick-in-the-butt'

   This article is for the many thousands of individual Canadians who give $-millions each year to environmental and conservation groups. 
   When it comes to fighting climate change*, you’re not getting your money’s worth. I’ve monitored the environmental movement for five years and draw the conclusion that the biggest and wealthiest groups are seriously letting down the Canadian public with weak and disjointed campaigns.
   Unfortunately, groups are never held accountable by institutional donors or media. It’s now up to concerned Canadians to see if you can influence them to do a better job. 
(See the bottom of this article to find out how you can help.)

   Note: * I’ve decided that the term “climate change” no longer describes the devastation the earth is experiencing. From now on I will use the term “ecological collapse.”

When I wasn’t paying attention, another environmental group – Blue Dot  – came into existence, joining the many other large Canadian groups claiming it has the right strategy to help save Canada from environmental devastation.

An initiative of the David Suzuki Foundation, Blue Dot says it “focuses on building a ground-swelling of support to convince Members of Parliament to introduce “a gold-standard federal environmental bill of rights.”

Blue Dot also urges municipalities to adopt a pro-environmental position, and it hopes to pressure Parliament to amend the Charter of Rights and Freedoms to include environmental protection.

Hey, this shouldn’t be hard! Just kidding. A dozen or so other groups have been working on the same goals for at least a dozen years with little success.

With only 115,000 individual members – but still growing – and modest funding, I don’t see how Blue Dot can be more effective than any of the others in fighting ecological collapse.

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Canada is seriously failing to meet its carbon emission reduction targetsMoreover, a government that claims to be fighting ecological collapse supports development of the tar sands.

“Canada, which represents one half of one percent of the planet’s population,” writes an angry 350.org head Bill McKibben “is claiming the right to sell the oil that will use up a third of the earth’s remaining carbon budget.”

Scientists say that if the world is to hold global warming to below 2 C this century every bit of fossil fuel should remain in the ground. A two-degree increase could spell catastrophe, scientists warn — through drought, ocean rise, crop failure, wildfire, flooding, and disease.

Faced with this frightening information, you would think that the environmental community would be well organized and have effective strategies in place.

Not so.

With the creation of Blue Dot, Canada has at least seven networks and 17 groups that claim to be fighting ecological collapse.

The groups seldom, if ever, work together. In fact, they are just as likely to see other groups as rivals. They don’t tend to share campaigning information. They compete for funding. The bosses protect their own isolated empires.

The largest groups have tremendous capacity. Six of the largest groups employ roughly 200 people. The approximate number of employees are in brackets:
  • The David Suzuki Foundation (60), 
  • Environmental Defence Canada (25), 
  • Greenpeace (20), 
  • Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (18), 
  • World Wildlife Fund of Canada (36), 
  • and Pembina Institute (42). 
And some have identical goals and similar campaigns.


(Incidentally, there’s also serious duplication of work by groups working in other areas. At least 20 groups work on water issues; 18 on forests; 16 on wildlife; 12 on land; 11 on oceans; etc. In addition, hundreds of small groups across the country work on these and many other issues.)

Individual groups complain that they lack funds, but if they worked together and cut out overlap and duplication of programs, much more money would be freed up.

I researched the funding of groups and discovered that, in 2014, the country’s top environmental and conservation groups received $20-million, much of it in the form of donations from committed individuals.

The environmental-climate change has three national networks and several regional ones.

Most groups belong to the Climate Action Network (CAN).  CAN has more than 100 members, but when it comes to action, it’s pretty much a do-little network.

CAN doesn’t bring together the power of its members to take action. It’s mainly a communications vehicle that shares groups’ information. It claims to lobby government, but my impression is that it complains politely. It has a conflict of interest because it is partly government funded.


Groups and the network need to change radically if they hope to have any success at all fighting ecological collapse.

To begin with, there needs to be a dramatic change in attitude. Even though we are facing climate calamity, groups don’t put themselves on the line. They’re too Canadian-polite. They’re not in the right place psychologically to deal with the crisis. They should be on an “at war” footing.

Groups and their staff members need to acknowledge that we are in a life and death situation!

The time is long past for sending petitions to Parliament, holding protest marches with a couple of hundred folks, and having nice visits with MPs.


First, groups could hold a staff meeting, write the term “climate calamity” on the blackboard, and start talking about what can be done to slow carbon emissions from Canada.

Then, facilitated by a hard-nosed campaign strategists, groups need to meet together and start developing joint strategies. They need to be less reluctant to confront and attack the people and institutions that are blocking change.

Groups need to free themselves both literally and psychologically from being severely limited by the federal government in terms of what they can do. Revenue Canada regulations say large groups that have charitable status can use only 10 per cent of their resources for political purposes. Very few groups come anywhere near to meeting the limit. But this isn’t the issue.


Protection of the environment is a crucial issue, and organizations must demand the right to advocate on behalf of the environment. In the past, groups fighting against tobacco companies and working to eliminate landmines have had charitable status. Environmental groups must demand the same rights. If their charitable status continues to prevent them from doing important work, they should give up charitable status.

The best results would almost certainly come from working together and developing joint campaigns, probably through the Climate Action Network. Dozens of groups representing millions of Canadians would be hard to ignore.

Sit-ins? Disrupt government communications? Targeting the country’s worst fossil fuel corporation? All possibilities need to be discussed.

Right now, with no serious opposition, Prime Minister Trudeau and the corporations know they can do as they please.

If groups became less concerned about protecting their own interests, they could easily re-allocate $1-million to launch a meaningful campaign.


Groups need to re-evaluate the difficult problem of motivating the public about ecological collapse. Because they are afraid of discourage people, many groups in Canada and elsewhere never tell us the real seriousness of ecological collapse. I don’t think this is the right approach anymore.

On one hand groups ask people to get involved in supporting their work – on the other hand, they say people shouldn’t worry too much. It’s no surprise that people aren’t motivated.

Only 57 per cent of Canadians say the country should do more to address climate change (term used in the poll). A September Abacus Data poll suggests that perhaps only 22 per cent of Canadians are radicalized on the issue.

A lot of time has been lost, but the movement should immediately start telling the truth about the destruction that’s coming, and rally as many Canadians as possible.

The environmental community will be angry and in denial about this article. After they calm down, it will be great if they realize they must go through a revolutionary process.

If the movement refuses to try to do a better job, perhaps groups should start sending back your money.

As folks who care about  the environment, there are things you can -- should -- do. 

First, you can e-mail the Climate Action Network (catherineabreu@climateactionnetwork.ca) and tell the Board of Directors that an empowered CAN should become the co-ordinating centre for strong campaigning.

Secondly, when your favourite environmental group asks for money again, you can write back and say you’d like to see their plan for combating climate change, i.e. ecological collapse, before you donate.

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Thanks Nick


  1. 'Ecological Collapse' is the appropriate term. I will start using it as well. Thank YOU

  2. You are on to something here, Nick. But I would contend it is not limited to a gross inefficacy in ngo sector working to mitigate "climate collapse". The misappropriation of funds, support, and volunteers that you speak of here is the same for the "environmental" ngo sector in BC, where groups such as the Sierra Club, Forest Ethics, Ancient Forest ALliance, and Wilderness Committee compete among one another for niches to maintain and grow support, instead of colluding interests toward major, potent campaigns. Alas, the NGO industry would have us believe they are taking care of business and that they are: mostly their own business.

  3. Redundancy is one of nature's strategies, Nick. I completely agree, though, about the need for collaboration on an "at war" footing. It feels dangerous to people to be radical, but we're in a radically dangerous moment. Ecological collapse is the correct description. Thank-you.

  4. For example: A BC provincial election just came and went. In BC, the rate of clearcut devastation of our temperate rainforest ranks among the highest annual biomass loss in the WORLD, and we are down to about 4% remaining old grownth which is being downed as I write. And yet, could our NGO environmental sector make this an issue for the election? Not a peep. The campaign came and went and even the continued savage clearcutting of our last remaining old growth was never made an election issue. But their emails never stopped, requesting donor funds and canvassers...

  5. I really appreciate your articles, Nick. You are always dead on. When I read this earlier, I only had time to read the beginning and completely agreed with 'Ecological Collapse'. I have now read it completely. Again, absolutely correct in your assessment. About 13 yrs ago and after reading a quote Nelson Mandela borrowed which included "It doesn't serve the world to play small", I completely changed my profession and became an activist. What you say about NGO's I saw as well and what you have written about capitalism is, I believe, the root cause of where we are now. I will share what you have written here with other activists (incl CAN) and write to (catherineabreu@climateactionnetwork.ca). Since meeting you about one year ago, I am encouraged and feel empowered to have someone with your worthy credentials who 'dares' to speak up. Gratitude to you Nick and the many like you. And, we are many and soon to become a lot more with your writings.

  6. You make some very good points, but the primary reason all these groups fall short on doing any real action is because this groups mentioned all have Canadian Revenue Agency Charitable Status and are therefore restricted to spending only 10 percent of the organization resources and time to political activities, which is ill defined by CRA. So we need to stop giving our money to these types of groups and start giving it to groups who have made the choice to not get CRA charitable status because they wish not to have any restriction placed on their so called political activities.

    1. Very good point. Interestingly, the groups are so afraid, they have used, on average, only two per cent of their 10 per cent limit for political spending. But there is another issue I need to research -- or perhaps you know? Revenue Canada says something to the effect that there's no limit on the amount they can spend on advancing the public interest of Canadians.