How to Take Collective Action to Combat Climate Change

Woman signs petition at Earth Day festival
Signing petitions for climate-forward causes is one example of individuals taking part in a collective action. (Karin Higgins, UC Davis)

Working together is humanity’s superpower. It has enabled us to do remarkable things—from building great cities to discovering the secrets of the universe to sending people into outer space. And it remains our best tool for solving the world’s biggest problems, including climate change.

There’s certainly merit to adopting a more climate-friendly lifestyle, such as by buying energy-efficient appliances or by swapping biking for driving. But that’s not enough to save the world. Climate change is a collective problem that needs collective action.

So one of the most powerful things you can do to fight climate change is to help empower groups working to fight climate change at a larger scale. Engaging in climate change at a collective level can also be socially and personally rewarding.

What exactly can you do? Well, you can vote—in elections, yes, but also with your voice, your time, and your money.

Vote with your vote

Democracies like the United States are built on the idea that people can and will vote in elections. We vote to elect politicians who set policies that serve the public who voted for them: hence the term “public policy.” This goes well beyond flashy races for president and Congress. Much of your community’s energy and climate policy is set by your state and local representatives and the people they appoint.

Politicians’ votes are influenced by many factors, including powerful lobbying interests. But at the end of the day, politicians know that their constituents have the power to keep them in office or  vote them out.

It’s critical that as many people as possible cast informed votes in federal, state, and local elections. This includes the lower-profile “down-ballot” races as well as referendums on state and local bills. If researching individual candidates and policies on your own seems daunting, check out voting resource guides and ratings given by climate-focused organizations.

So get out there and vote. It’s free and it matters. Everyone should do this one. No excuses!

Woman voting

(Steve Debenport/Getty Images)

Vote with your voice

Surveys consistently show that most Americans want more clean energy and that a growing share of people know climate change is real and a growing problem. However, voters rarely cite environmental concerns as a top issue. A recent poll from the highly regarded Pew Research Center showed that only 46 percent of Americans thought dealing with climate change was a top priority for the president and congress, second-lowest of the 19 issues included in the survey. This needs to change if we want political leaders to take climate change more seriously.

You can help raise awareness and show decision-makers you care about climate change by sharing climate-related materials from credible organizations and media outlets. You can also include calls-to- climate-action in outlets like blogs, letters to the editor, or contacts with politicians, as well as casual conversations with friends and family.

If you’re not sure how to start talking to people about climate change, check out this handy guide from The Nature Conservancy. One key takeaway is that you do know enough to talk to people, even if you’re not a climate scientist. It’s also important to remind people that we are not helpless. People are more motivated to get involved in solvable problems. So while we can’t avoid the fact that climate change is a big, thorny challenge, we can emphasize ways to overcome it.

Vote with your time

Many communities, and most cities and campuses, have people working to address climate change through local education initiatives, fundraising campaigns, and more. In my own work as executive director of the UC Davis Policy Institute for Energy, Environment and the Economy, we’ve been empowered by amazing volunteers who help make our events happen and amplify our outreach. Local organizations are always happy for another brain or pair of hands!

man talks to class

Austin Brown, executive director of the Policy Institute, talks to the UC Davis Mandela Washington Fellows. (Victor Yu/UC Davis)

If you can’t find a way to engage locally, consider connecting with others on social media. There are also many extremely effective state and national nonprofit groups dedicated to clean energy, better transportation, sustainability, and fighting climate change. Don’t be afraid to reach out to see if you can launch a local chapter or support outreach in your neighborhood, contribute a guest blog, or help in other ways. And if you have a few bucks to spare…see below!

Vote with your money

There are lots of free ways to take on climate change. But for those who can afford to open their wallets, donations to climate-progressive politicians, social action groups, and environmental nonprofits and philanthropic foundations make a huge difference. Sites like Charity Navigator can help you find reputable organizations to donate to. These sites also include filters to narrow down the many worthy candidates out there to those that most closely match your specific priorities.

Don’t worry if you can only spare a few dollars. It’s ok to start very small. If your circumstances allow, you can give more later on to those you think are using their resources—and your donations—wisely.

Let’s do it

Climate change is real, it’s here, it’s scary, and it’s getting worse. But when we do solve it—and I personally believe we will—it will be because we’ve worked together. Let’s do this.


During the week of the Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco, the Policy Institute is overseeing four affiliate sessions on Sept. 11-12 focusing on climate, energy, transportation, and public policy. UC Davis has been selected as an official affiliate event host for the summit, set for Sept. 12-14.  #UCDavisatGCAS

Media Resources

Austin Brown is executive director of the UC Davis Policy Institute for Energy, Environment, and the Economy. Find him on Twitter @DokEnergy.

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