52 Climate Actions That Can Change Behavior

The 52 Climate Actions partnership helps people understand their personal power in tackling climate change.

It's time to act!

52 Climate Actions

The question of whether personal lifestyle changes make a difference, when 100 companies are emitting 71% of carbon emissions, has long been a subject of debate on Treehugger and elsewhere. My colleague Sami Grover writes that "oil companies and fossil fuel interests are all too happy to talk about climate change—as long as the focus remains on individual responsibility, not collective action."

There are others who believe that personal actions do matter, and that if enough people do them, it effectively adds up to collective action. That's the thinking behind 52 Climate Actions, a partnership set up after the 2015 Paris Conference to "promote permaculture-based solutions to climate change." They wanted to create a project that would:

  • Help people understand their personal power in tackling climate change.    
  • Show people the best responses to climate change.    
  • Promote these solutions to a wide audience.
  • Inspire people to action to help them reduce their carbon footprint, adapt to climate change, and embrace a low carbon culture.
  • Be rooted in permaculture, a design system that aims to create sustainable human habitats by following nature's patterns. 

Having been created by permaculture associations, they lean toward individual action; as the lead organization, the Permaculture Association, notes:

"With permaculture, people are treading lightly on our planet, in harmony with nature. Taking care of people and fellow creatures. Making sure that we can sustain human activities for many generations to come. Culture change not climate change!"

52 Climate Actions

The website, which launched in 2019, chose 52 effective climate actions "that can be taken by individuals and communities in the Global North," adding that "it’s 52 actions because it’s one for each week of the year," organized around themes. Spokesperson Sarah Cossom tells Treehugger:

"It can be really overwhelming, and people wonder 'am I too far away?' or 'what's the point?' So we break it down into manageable ideas, one per week, and don't expect people to be perfect, we want hundreds of thousands of people doing it imperfectly."
Card 1 climate action

52 Climate Actions

The site is delightfully retro in these days of fancy web technologies, and each action starts with a simple card. But when you hit the "read more" button there is significant research and commentary, along with links to further reading. The content behind Card #1 includes the three goals of the project:

  1. Reducing your carbon footprint (mitigation and sequestration): "For most of us around three-quarters of our personal carbon footprint comes from just four things, and in all these areas there’s huge scope for emission reduction: travel, food, shopping and home energy use."
  2. Living with the effects of climate change (adaptation): "Even if emissions are fully stabilised, climate change and its effects will last for many years to come. These effects will be different everywhere, but are likely to include hotter summers, more droughts, more frequent wildfires, more extreme wind events (hurricanes, cyclones, gales, typhoons), sea level rise and intense periods of rainfall leading to floods."
  3. Thinking differently: "Tackling climate change calls us beyond sustainability (maintaining the status quo) to regeneration (making things better). It offers multiple opportunities to address other crises: pollution, economic inequality, loss of biodiversity, breakdown of community, the crisis in physical and mental health and runaway greed. Climate change can’t be tackled without fundamental changes in how we think, both individually and collectively."

They also raise the perennial question—can individuals really make a difference?—but also push it further. "Politicians and corporations will act when their voters/customers tell them to, and threaten to switch to their rivals if they don’t act. So every one of the 52 Actions includes a ‘global action’ suggestion for creating change at government, corporate or international level."

Heating example

52 Climate Actions

So every page goes beyond the simple action to the community and global action. Some of their suggestions are perhaps not the most up-to-date; many would argue that switching to wood or biomass heating is a mistake, but one could fill a website just on that subject.

Each page then goes on to give greater detail, sustainable development goals, resources for children and adults, and teaching guides. an impressive amount of content; the resources list goes on for pages.

Students striking in Belgium

In this age of Strike 4 Climate and Extinction Rebellion, it is easy to see why people might feel that individual actions seem less meaningful when we should be collectively out in the streets. But one can make the case that we need both, we need action on all fronts. On the "Think Differently" page, they note that "tackling climate change calls us to a new relationship with nature, and lives of greater simplicity. We need to move from anxiety about the future to empowered, positive action." Or as Sarah Cossom told Treehugger, "you have to believe that you can make a difference, and not give up!"

So pick a card and start this week with one of 52 Climate Actions.