Few environmentalists celebrated Donald Trump’s victory on Election Day. But green groups have found the silver lining in the election of a climate change doubter: Not since the deregulatory days of the George W. Bush administration have they seen such an opportunity to raise money and recruit new members.
"We've seen a surge in support from our members who want to fight back," Sam Parry, membership director for the Environmental Defense Fund, told BuzzFeed News. "Apparently the sixth stage of grief is activism.”
Though reluctant to cite dollar figures, environmental organizations across the US report jumps in new membership and the amount of money donated since Election Day. The cash comes from donors concerned that Trump and his cabinet nominees, a bevy of oil industry figures like Exxon Mobil's Rex Tillerson and anti-regulatory politicians such as Oklahoma attorney general Scott Pruitt, will dismantle President Obama’s legacy of addressing climate change.
Between Election Day and the end of the November, more than 50,000 people donated to the Natural Resources Defense Council, “an exponential increase from what we saw at this time last year,” according to Josh Mogerman, an NRDC spokesperson. Greenpeace, whose website has been soliciting donations by declaring “He can’t trump us,” has more than doubled the number of new online donors this November compared to last November.
And in the four weeks after Election Day the Sierra Club, the largest environmental group in the US, signed up 18,000 new members. The past highest monthly total was only 1,200.
“I wasn’t surprised that there was a spike, but I was surprised by the size of it,” Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, told BuzzFeed News. “These are folks who want to do something to fight back.”
While Trump has met with climate activists like Al Gore and Leonardo DiCaprio since the election and claimed he is “very open-minded” to the idea the climate change is caused by human activity, environmental activists are not holding their breath.
In fundraising emails and other online calls to action, the groups point to Trump’s cabinet nominees, almost all of whom deny or diminish the threat climate change poses, as reasons to give.
NRDC’s website, for example, trumpets at the top of its website: “Urge your senators to oppose Donald Trump's disastrous pick for EPA administrator,” referring to Pruitt, a longtime opponent of Obama’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the nation’s power plants.
Even organizations like the National Audubon Society, which decided to forgo an aggressive fundraising pitch, saw donation numbers go up.
“Since the election, you've likely been blitzed by four-alarm, red-lined fundraising email solicitations,” David Yarnold, the president and CEO of the group, wrote in an email to members on Nov. 18. “Audubon thinks you deserve a more thoughtful response.”
Nevertheless, nine days after the letter was sent, Audubon saw a 300% increase in online donations compared to the same period last year.
With the executive and legislative branches controlled by Republicans who have called for rolling back Obama’s efforts to limit greenhouse gas emissions, those calls may fall on deaf ears. So environmental groups are preparing to urge those outside the federal government to address the issue with the newfound funds.
For example, the Sierra Club plans to add staff to push cities and companies to replace fossil fuels with clean energy, Brune said. NDRC, in addition to funding local activism, expects to funnel money toward potential litigation against the Trump administration.
Jamie Henn, co-founder of 350.org, a climate change nonprofit at the forefront of fights to stop the construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline and Dakota Access Pipeline, told BuzzFeed News the group still will try “stopping fossil fuel projects” across the US.
“Trump can bloviate from the White House all he wants, but we know real change happens on the ground,” Henn said. “There are lots of fights in our cities and states that the grassroots can win, or at the very least, put up a hell of a fight.”