If Two and Two and Fifty Make a Million: How to develop an effective call-to-action to fight climate change

By Joshua Berman

Project Coordinator, SBN


About a month ago,

SBN sat down at our weekly staff meeting and began the discussion with a recent article that had struck the interest of our Executive Director, Laury Hammel.

Daisy Simmons, in Me vs We: Rethinking Personal Guilt, calls into question the efficacy of personal guilt in prompting action to combat climate change. Instead, Simmons argues, while “personal impact has had a long place of honor in the climate narrative… it appears at least some of the collective ‘we’ is ready for a new, more communal focus.”

And here, both Laury and I certainly agree. Laury, from his own “life experience, has seen people do more, share more, and give more when they feel a part of a community. I don’t think that appealing to personal responsibility vs collective responsibility is either/or,” Laury emphasized, “We can and should do both every time!”

And how do organizations most often appeal to their visitors, members, partners, and volunteers? Well, with a call-to-action of course.


The art of a well-crafted call-to-action is certainly no new innovation.

As Marshall Ganz explains in “What is a Public Narrative”, “The questions of what am I called to do, what my community is called to do, and what we are called to do now are at least as old as Moses’ conversation with God at the burning bush.”

Nonetheless, it can be difficult to know exactly what it takes in a call-to-action to deliver effective results.

A leader’s job is not only to answer the difficult questions, but also to persuade others to follow, to join, to be leaders themselves. This is the art of a well-crafted call-to-action, and the Public Narrative is a powerful tool that can deliver these results with outstanding efficacy.

Ganz’s tool compliments Simmons’ article exceptionally well, because the challenge of Global Climate Change is entirely unlike any other challenge humans have faced in the past. It is Global like no other problem has ever been, it is collective like no other problem has ever been, and it is complicated and messy.

When dealing with climate change, the question of personal vs collective responsibility inevitably brings up further questions of historical complicity and equality of opportunity as the way our societies will operate will be fundamentally changed – in the face of the harsh realities that Global Climate Change will inescapably bear, societies will change either as a product our own design or by the force of those harsh realities themselves.

And these changes cannot take place on just the personal or systemic levels, they must take place on both. Collective change will be a result of personal change, and personal change will be a result of collective change.


Why us? Why now? Why do we have to deal with this and not them?

Ganz’s Public Narrative, I find, is essential to responding to such a line of questions. The Public Narrative requires three parallel stories: the story of self, the story of us, the story of now.

The story of self provides context, encourages empathy, and builds trust between the narrator and the listeners. The story of us builds on this foundation of trust to create a bond of values-based common ground between the narrator and the listener. The story of now communicates urgency, and clearly outlines how a person can participate in the movement to support collective change.

Of the many important lessons I found in Ganz’s piece, the following advice stands out not only on the basis of its potential impact but also on the basis of its simplicity. “Hope is specific, not abstract. What’s the vision?” Goals can be lofty or they can begin small, but they must be tangible. Small wins can be interpreted as proof of plausibility of large wins, and small actions and achievements can build to systemic change.

Ganz references Pete Seeger’s “One Man’s Hands”, which goes,

“One man’s hands can’t tear a prison down.
Two men’s hands can’t tear a prison down.
But if two and two and fifty make a million,
We’ll see that day come round.
We’ll see that day come round.”

So tell your story, broach that common-ground, and make your call-to-action. And remember

if two and two and fifty make a million…

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