How can environmental advocates build better coalitions for climate action? As executive director of the US Climate Action Network (USCAN), Keya Chatterjee brings together diverse constituencies to build climate solutions. She shared her perspective on the future of the climate movement with Rachel’s Network members on Earth Day.
What’s the biggest challenge we face in building capacity for smaller grassroots climate groups?
Organizing is key in taking on the powerful entrenched interests that refuse to act on climate change, and yet grassroots groups are often run by unpaid staff and struggle to secure even modest resources. Whether it’s foundations’ reluctance to provide small grants (many of which would go far), or the organizations’ capacity challenges that make it difficult to secure large funds from individual donors and private sector partnerships, one thing is clear: more money is needed.
But it’s not just the money. Until now, the climate movement has placed too much emphasis on working the “inside game” with the government and corporations. We now need to figure out how to play the “outside game” by including more voices in an effective and equitable way.
If you could remove one obstacle that prevents us from implementing solutions to this challenge, what would it be?
We should try a lot of things at once. Large organizations could help by sharing information about how they raise money, and by being transparent about how they decide on what smaller organizations they fund themselves. Foundations should have rapid response grant programs, and smaller grant programs. Networks, alliances, and collaboratives of small groups should implement fundraising models.
How have your priorities changed since you started your work as a climate advocate?
I’ve doubled down on the need to work on climate change in a way that prioritizes equity. Our opposition likes to propagate the myth that climate action is bad for poor people and communities of color. The opposite is true. Climate action, done correctly, enables poor communities to reap economic and health benefits and tap into the enormous investments in clean energy. California provides a good example of how to tackle inequality and climate change at the same time.
What are you most proud of in your work?
I am proud of providing a strong network for organizations working on climate change. There is no one organization that can tackle climate change alone, and in fact it would be a disaster to merge the hundreds of organizations that work on climate change. However, the work also can’t happen in a vacuum, so we need a network. I’m proud of my work to maintain and update the infrastructure enabling our members to collaborate and communicate with each other. Watching our member organizations work together with humility and solidarity gives me hope that we can take on the fossil fuel companies that oppose climate action.
What woman environmentalist inspires you? Why?
What woman environmentalist doesn’t inspire me?! I’ve noticed in this line of work that we have an abundance of strong and warm female leaders. Between our board of directors and our staff, I get a lot of inspiration from the women associated with USCAN, from our board executive committee members Heather Coleman of Oxfam, Claudia Malloy of the National Wildlife Federation, and J Drake Hamilton of Fresh Energy, to the current incredible cadre of women leaders of color on our board: Ife Kilamanjaro, Colette Pichon-Battle of the Gulf Coast Center for Law & Policy, Jacqueline Patterson of the NAACP, and Adriana Quintero of NRDC. The full list of inspirational women environmentalists is too long for a blog post!
Keya Chatterjee is a mother, the Executive Director of the US Climate Action Network, and the author of the book The Zero Footprint Baby. Her work focuses on building a diverse, inclusive movement in support of climate action.