Topic: Collective Action

Collective Climate Action (origin: collective and Elinor Ostrom)

Collective action refers to action taken by a group of people to achieve a shared goal. In the case of collective climate action, the goal can be mitigation of the effects of climate changeadaptation of systems or infrastructure in anticipation of climate risk, or a deeper transformation of the conditions driving the climate crisis. Oftentimes, collective climate action is conceptualized as a grassroots social movement, composed of citizens working for change at the community scale. Examples of this sort of collective climate action include the School Strike for Climate demonstrations, community action days for tree planting, beach clean-ups, or teach-ins. The concept of collective action is often juxtaposed with individual action, which focuses on the individual choices, decisions, and actions people make in the name of environmentally responsible behavior.

Conventional collective action theory questions the efficacy of collective action, positing that individuals will not work toward the common good without the presence of externally imposed regulations (see: tragedy of the commons). Economist Elinor Ostrom challenged this perspective, contending that in the case of climate change, collective action can be achieved via a polycentric approach where individual families, communities, non-governmental organizations, and sub-national and national governments work to combat climate change within their own spheres of influence.

©2024 ClimateLit (Neela Nandyal)

Related terms: individual action, mitigation, tragedy of the commons, transformation

Looking for more? Check these resources:

Ostrom, Elinor. “Polycentric Systems for Coping with Collective Action and Global Environmental Change.” Global Environmental Change, vol. 20, no. 4, 2010, pp. 550–57,

Tosun, Jale, and Jonas J. Schoenefeld. “Collective climate action and networked climate governance.” Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Climate Change 8.1 (2017): e440.

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by K. O'Neill

“I know our village is small, and we can only do small things to help the sea. But I still think we should do them. Even if other people are harming the reef, it doesn’t make it okay for us to as well.”

by Jon Scieszka

“That’s it, Homo Sapiens—the hard and inescapable truth. I am your Perfect Planet. I will take care of you. But you have to take care of me”

by Jon Scieszka

“Even though the Water Planet did not turn out to be a good Goldilocks Planet, it did turn out to be a good lesson on how to take care of a planet.”

by Jewell Parker Rhodes

“Saving the environment is harder than fractions. Harder than getting my sisters to be nice. Harder than dreaming nightmares. Or searching for mermaids.”

by Deborah Hopkinson

“I learned that in twenty years, the number of monarchs has fallen by ninety percent. The problem is so big, and butterflies are so small.”

by Amy Allgeyer

“I nod, but my mind’s fixed on something else—something abnormal in the valley. Something that might be causing all those health problems. And that something is bright orange.”

by Ben Okri

“You humans seem to think that we trees are just decoration. But we are beings like you. We feel. We respond to love and attention. You should see how we glow when we are loved.”

by Margarita Engle

“I can’t resolve or invent the past. / I need a way to change the future.”

by Melissa Coffey

“Mayor Mayonnaise knew he had a mess on his hands”

by Bart Davis, Julian Lennon

“On our beautiful planet, some places need healing. Would you like to go on a healing adventure?”