Let’s Pull Some Levers to Create Change

levers create change

By James Ware

We are running out of time. There are levers to battle the increasing effects of climate change.

The Fourth National Climate Assessment Report states our civilization is facing an irreversible tipping point in less than 12 years. The Report was published last December.

If we don’t act now to change the path we are on, we face a bleak future. Sea levels are rising.  Severe weather events are increasing, as are devastating wildfires. Such conditions have already created massive cost increases for safety, environmental mitigation, restoration and property insurance.

We face challenges on so many fronts it is tempting to throw up our hands in despair and just give up. However, no matter how dire the threat of climate change appears to be, there are constructive actions we can – and must – take, both individually and collectively.

Climate Crusaders

climate crusader toolkit
Climate crusaders need a toolkit of levers to combat climate change.

Becoming an effective “Climate Crusader” means assembling an effective toolkit for driving large-scale social change. The good news is that if we learn to apply the right tools – even just some of them – we can have an impact on our future well beyond what most of us think is possible.

Just consider for a moment the many life-changing transformations in mindsets and practices we have experienced in our own lifetimes: the adoption of automobile seat belts; the campaign to make smoking seriously unpopular; the explosion of interest in healthy foods and physical fitness; our increasing reliance on social media for communications and relationships; and the rapid shift from shopping malls to online retailers. We can learn a great deal by analyzing how and why these transformations took place.

Nora Silver, a professor at the Haas School of Business at University of California Berkeley, has studied more than 200 examples of large-scale social change. Her research unearthed seven specific “levers” that can produce meaningful, wide-spread and long-lasting change in both behaviors and beliefs.

Becoming an effective “Climate Crusader” means assembling an effective toolkit for driving large scale social change.

Seven Levers to Drive Large Scale Change

Be smart, use levers to create change. Here, briefly, are Silver’s magnificent seven: 

Grassroots Organizing

The eruption, out of deep-seated beliefs and frustrations, of bottoms-up movements seeking to redress a grievance or con-front a challenge. Think of the #metoo movement, Black Lives Matter, and #neveragain.


The coming together of multiple groups that share a common interest. To co-opt a slogan familiar to Golden State Warriors fans, there is a “Strength in Numbers” that aggregates resources and leverages relationships to generate both power and impact.

Single Organizations

Sometimes a single organization produces fundamental change. Consider, for example, the impact of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD); and Planned Parenthood, even in the face of withering political pressure.

levers create change

Harnessing the power of social media is an obvious way to reach large numbers of people. Whether it is cell phones, Twitter, Facebook, television, the Internet, or even plain old snail-mailed letters, technology enables us to leverage ideas and calls to action like no other tool.


The power of the purse often overwhelms everything else. Just consider how the divestment movement helped end apartheid in South Africa, or how subsidies, incentives and tax breaks impact our purchasing decisions about cars, electricity, gasoline, lightbulbs and food.

The Law

When all else fails, legislation can certainly change behaviors (if not beliefs). Just think of smoke-free restaurants, marriage equality and the end of segregated public schools.


Establishing brand images, using humor, generating television coverage of protests. The way your messages are framed and perceived can have an unbelievable impact on their effectiveness.

Clearly, these seven levers are not mutually exclusive. I believe they have the biggest impact when used in combination with each other. In my view, we Climate Crusaders should pull as many of these levers as we can in all of our campaigns to combat climate change.

Courtesy of the Rossmoor News, May 29, 2019.  Email James Ware, PhD, at jim@jimware.com.

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