Every year, the number of non-governmental organizations (NGO’s for short) committed to reducing climate change, saving the ocean, developing alternative energy sources, cutting down plastic use, not cutting down forests, or myriad other worthy causes, grows. Many of these organizations are staffed by committed, hard-working environmentally minded advocates struggling to make a difference. But, with so many NGO’s out there, and more being founded, how are concerned citizens expected to know which NGO’s are effective, which best match their ideals, and, most important, which NGO’s are worthy of their donations (either of money of of volunteer time). To alleviate this problem, I’ve assembled a set of 5 relatively simple guidelines to help you evaluate and select a conservation NGO that fits your values and gets the job done.
1. Determine how well the NGO incorporates local and indigenous stakeholder groups into their programs.
I’ve started here because this is the most difficult to assess but, by far, the most important. The most successful NGO’s seek out local stakeholders for consultation. The very best include local stakeholders among their employees, at high management positions. The reasons for this should be obvious: local stakeholders are familiar with the political and social climate of the region in which they’re working. They have personal connections to key decision makers in the community. Stakeholders are more sympathetic to a conservation message when that message is being delivered by respected members of their community, rather than purely by outsiders. Without local support, many conservation initiatives are doomed to failure.
In an attempt to garner attention and raise awareness regarding the problematic use of orcas and other marine mammals in captivity for entertainment, PETA, an animal rights group, has sued Sea World, a corporation that builds and manages aquariums and marine parks. Opposition to Sea World’s brand of entertainment-driven aquariums is nothing new, but this fresh lawsuit adds a novel twist to the boilerplate “intelligent animals don’t belong in captivity” – PETA is suing Sea World for violating these oceanic dolphin’s constitutional rights under the 13th amendment.
The 13th amendment to the United States Constitution explicitly outlaws slavery or involuntary captivity:
Image from Peta.org
First they paraded half-naked women around in cities (including Charleston, right across from the building where I teach) holding signs that said “I’d rather be naked than wear fur” (Link NSFW). Then they had the “vegetarians have better sex” commercial that the Super Bowl refused to air (Link also NSFW). Now PETA is at it again. Their latest campaign to save the animals by exploiting women is called the “Sexiest Vegetarian Next Door” contest (You guessed it, Link NSFW).
Image from peta.org
To enter, you must be a vegetarian or vegan. To win, PETA members have to vote for you because they think you’re attractive. Men can enter as well, but the silhouette in the logo is clearly female.
I have a radical suggestion for PETA. Instead of taking a page from the book of beer commercials and arguing “attractive people do this so you should as well”, why don’t you try to convince people that your side is the right one by using reasoned, respectful argument?
Image from HumaneSociety.org
I am, in general, a supporter of animal rights. Animal abuse sickens me, and I really believe Ghandi’s famous quote that “you can judge a society by how it treats its weakest members”. That said, while it’s disturbing to see a rabbit which has gone blind from exposure to a potential new shampoo, I’d rather have a rabbit go blind than a human child. More importantly, while it is troubling to infect a chimpanzee with a disease in order to study how to cure that disease, such research unquestionably saves human lives. That’s why I was surprised to learn about the Great Ape Protection Act.