Protecting the planet for future generations is a cause we all have a responsibility to support. The threats posed by climate change can be overwhelming, but experts remain hopeful that our environment can still be healed. In honor of Earth Day (April 22), we’re highlighting individuals and organizations in Chicago and nationally that are focused on fighting the climate crisis, providing solutions, and promoting sustainability. Do your part for the planet by supporting these organizations during Earth Month and beyond.
How To Help
Metropolitan Planning Council
Since 1934, the Metropolitan Planning Council — a nonprofit planning and policy organization that works to create a more equitable and sustainable Chicago region — has been working on behalf of our local ecosystem, among many things. Over the years, MPC has instituted programs in the city to champion social needs such as access to housing and transportation, but more nuanced than that, other tiers to their mission include making waterways more equitable, inhabitable and accessible to community members. Which is why they were one of the organizations to spearhead the Our Great Rivers project — which brings together local government and supporters to create a more inviting and productive Chicago waterway. To find out more about the stellar social, policy and environmental programs they have been running for nearly 100 years, visit the Metropolitan Planning Council.
Chicago Parks Foundation
One of the many attractions of Chicago is the diverse public park system made up of over 600 open spaces. In partnership with the Chicago Park District, Chicago Parks Foundation — an independent 501c3 organization — serves as a collaborative and accountable local resource that anyone can trust, from park goers to local government officials. “Our goal is to help park users and lovers become park givers and stewards. We bring community ideas to action, raising funds and awareness for park projects throughout our city.” This corner of conservation is crucial, but not doable without the hard work of volunteers who want to give back to the city. From cleanup crews to raising funds, the Chicago Parks Foundation needs your support — visit them online for more.
Friends of the Chicago River
Above all else, Friends of the Chicago River wants Chicagoans to know that the river is not the same sludge pond of lore, but rather, after years of work, it is a thriving ecosystem unto itself. Since 1979, FCR — a nonprofit organization — has labored to improve and protect the Chicago River system for all living things via water and habitat cleanup. During that time, they’ve instituted programs such as an annual Chicago River Cleanup Day, which saw over 2,000 volunteers last year. They also encourage people to get out on the River, and do so with their Summer Float Party — this year July 23 — where attendees can float down the river, enjoying it from a new perspective. Sound like something worthy of support? It sure is! Find more details on how you can join their clean up crews, raise awareness and donate to their cause at Friends of the Chicago River online.
Citizens for Conservation
This volunteer-based nonprofit has made a pledge to “saving living space for living things” in Illinois. Located in Barrington, the group is responsible for restoring and maintaining over 777 acres across 14 separate locations. Their work hinges on three concepts: Protect, Educate, Restore. Through this, they are able to uplift what already exists and prepare the next generation of conservationists, specifically through their award-winning Youth Education classes. From water health preservation to reforestation efforts, from controlled burns to the removal of invasive species, CFC meets a wide range of needs in our local wildlife. To assist them as they diligently work — on their own time — to save our environment, consider signing up for volunteer positions, become an annual member or send a financial donation. Details on the Citizens for Conservation site.
Climate Justice Alliance
Climate Justice Alliance was formed in 2013 to “create a new center of gravity in the climate movement by uniting frontline communities and organizations into a formidable force.” Through their “translocal organizing strategy and mobilizing capacity” they aim to institute a “Just Transition” away from extractive systems of production, consumption and political oppression, and toward a more “resilient, regenerative and equitable” economy and way of thinking. Critical to their mission is the belief that these actions hinge on the examination of race, gender and class “in order to make it a truly Just Transition.” From public marches to policy shifts and more all over the nation, CJA is wholly committed to seeing through the necessary change to save the planet. Learn more about their programs, core beliefs and how you can donate or get involved — all on the Climate Justice Alliance website.
At the heart of their mission, Urban Rivers (UR) wants to transform city rivers into urban sanctuaries — namely for local wildlife, but also for humans, too. Through partnerships with the City of Chicago’s Department of Planning and Development, community groups, corporations, local businesses and more, UR wants to utilize the Chicago River as more than just a body of water but as a way to engage the community, build up habitats, spur economic growth and institute “proven science for ecological restoration.” Their largest undertaking in Chicago is the Wild Mile — which, once finished, will be the first-ever floating eco-park of this scale in the world — that runs along the North Branch Canal of the Chicago River. Volunteering with UR can be fun, too, like kayaking up the river to remove trash, for example. For a full list of ways to help and a direct link to donate to their efforts, head over to Urban Rivers.
Friends of the Forest Preserves
With a whopping 70,000 acres under their protection, Friends of the Forest Preserves is home to the first-ever and now largest-ever forest preserve district. The founders of the organization found it imperative to save this land for centuries to come and their work has manifested into advocacy, ecological restoration, volunteer organizing and their Conservation Corps program, which invites students and adults from underserved communities to learn first-hand about conservation and the life skills that come along with it — like leadership, job readiness and financial literacy, among others. Volunteers are the lifeblood of the organization, visit Friends of the Forest Preserves for opportunities as well as more information on making a donation.
City Bees Savers
Without bees, our local landscape, access to food and more could be permanently damaged — as pollinators play a key role in the survival of the planet. As they face dwindling numbers, there are organizations working to keep them safe and train a new generation of beekeepers, too, such is the case with City Bee Savers. While CBS helps buy and sell bees to good homes — and sells honey as well — a large part of their work centers on helping folks safely and humanely remove bees from unwanted areas. What keeps them engaged in the community, however, is their Bee Buddy Program in which participants can sponsor a hive throughout the season, receive updates and be treated to their own hives’ honey at the end of the course. What this does is create ongoing support for a mission that, without it, could significantly damage the local, intricate environment. Want to join their programs, or at least offer monetary support? Head over to City Bee Savers for more.
A threat to not only our environment but also our day-to-day lives is the way in which crops are grown and sustained. 2Blades Foundation takes a unique approach to this by “contributing to food security and climate adaptation by protecting our food crops from plant pests and disease.” What they have dubbed “the unmet need” is challenged by 2Blades’ discoveries and advances in technology that “significantly reduce, or entirely prevent, crop disease in order to improve agricultural output and the lives of people around the world.” With a staggering 27% of the population not meeting their food intake and nutritional needs, according to 2Blades, the necessity of supporting work in this sector is very real. To help enable more communities to have access to the food they need, support 2Blades’ work — contributions to their mission can be made at the 2Blades Foundation.
While Grassroots International is not strictly an environmental organization, a large part of what they do is — and as they focus on other areas of humanitarian need, they invest in the larger picture. At their core, they connect “people in the US with global movements addressing the root causes of injustice and oppression.” In the sector of climate justice, they zero in on how “Global North corporations directly engaged in the industries that emit the most greenhouse gasses associated with climate change [and] make record profits [while] peasants, Indigenous Peoples, women and youth throughout the Global South are among the hardest hit by its effects.” They recognize that the answers to our climate questions likely lie with those who fight the most saturated effects of climate change, meaning they center individuals rather than organizations. “Climate justice operates at the intersection of racial and social rights, environmental and economic justice. It focuses on the root causes of climate change, and calls for a transformation to a sustainable, community-led economy.” Their mission is one worth supporting if we hope to turn the tide on climate change — visit Grassroots International online to find the best ways to get involved and donate to help their global mission.
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Margaret Smith is a Chicago-based writer and editor with a passion for socio-political storytelling about their community. They are a graduate of Columbia College Chicago.