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"What Can I as an Individual Do to Combat Climate Change?" is perhaps the most frequently asked question about climate change! Literally hundreds of answers, from recycling and checking tire inflation to eating less meat and voting, show up in “Lists of the “Top 10 Personal Actions to Combat Climate Change" all over the internet. But there is also a large literature suggesting that individual actions can never scale to the point of actually mitigating climate change. So what are individuals supposed to do?

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 it’s true that voluntary efforts to reduce individuals’ emissions are unlikely to ever scale to the point of influencing climate change outcomes, such efforts are important in setting the stage for other actions. Someone unwilling to think about their carbon footprint at all is probably unlikely to be willing to engage on climate change in many kinds of 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 opportunities to leverage individual action 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, there is no way today for individuals to engage in playing Climate Chess, so individuals are on their own for the time being. In that context, what should individuals focus on? Note that you can take your exploration of individual action on climate change to the next level by visiting our Individual Action Climate Site. A few key points:

  • 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 impactful thing that many 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. By association, be wary of letting carbon offsets dominate your climate response. Learn more here.

  • Be wary of suggestions based on complex calculations of your carbon footprints, 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.

As noted above, you can take your exploration of “individuals and climate change” to the next level by visiting our Individual Action Climate Site.

We’re always looking to improve or expand on the insights organized above. If you have comments or suggestions, let us know!

You can explore other 1-page climate change issue briefs here.