Individuals Tackling Climate Change

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The question "What Can I as an Individual Do to Combat Climate Change?" is perhaps the most frequently asked question about climate change! Writers suggesting answers to the question have recommended literally hundreds of things, many of them showing up in "Top 10 Personal Actions to Combat Climate Change" lists you can find all over the place. Such lists are not particularly helpful, however, since many of the actions you’ll find listed wouldn't make any difference to climate change. That’s either because they focus on relatively inconsequential behaviors, or because they are unlikely to ever scale to a level that could measurably influence climate change.

The good news is that there are a lot of things you can do to combat climate change, and you can explore them through the pages at right. In the bullet points below we’ll summarize some key conclusions:

Summarized below are points key to understanding the role of individuals in tackling climate change, suggestions for individual action, and options for digging deeper into this critical topic.

  • While individuals’ voluntary efforts to reduce their emissions are unlikely to be able to scale to the point of influencing climate change outcomes, such efforts are important in setting the stage for other actions. Someone completely unwilling to think about their carbon footprint is unlikely to be willing to engage on climate change in many other ways.


  • The idea that one has to choose between individual action and collective action on climate change is mistaken. Individuals are key to collective action! But individual actions aimed at collective impact tend to be quite different from individual actions aimed at reducing personal carbon footprints.

  • Unfortunately, the vast majority of individuals have little idea of how they can most effectively leverage their time, resources, or skills in the interests of climate change mitigation. Complicating the situation further is that the best opportunities to leverage individuals’ capabilities and resources are constantly changing.

  • Helping turn individual action into collective climate impact is the idea behind Climate Chess. Individuals are pivotal to the successful playing of Climate Chess, as we lay out in a free Climate Chess Ebook, and in this dedicated Climate Chess Climate Site.

Unfortunately, no one has set up the system by which individuals could effectively engage in playing Climate Chess. In that context, what should individuals focus on?

  • There is no one-size-fits-all “best individual action” when it comes to tackling climate change. A lot depends on what you have available, whether it’s time, money, or expertise, and what options might exist through your skills or job.

  • The literature suggests that the single most important thing most individuals can do to combat climate change is to talk about it. Whether with friends, family, or strangers, talking about climate change is key, and there are plenty of guides out there to help you in what can you might be concerned would be an uncomfortable conversations.

  • Focusing on your carbon footprint may be necessary (as mentioned above), but it is far from sufficient to mitigate climate change.

  • Be wary of suggestions based on complex carbon footprint calculations, including the argument that the most important thing individuals can do is to have fewer children. Such calculations can easily be misleading, and are totally contrary to the idea of collective climate action.

You can dig deeper into individual action topics through the pages at right.

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