Public Resource
From the suites to the streets: Examining the range of behaviors and attitudes of international climate activists
Boucher et al., Energy Research & Social Science

Inspired by previous protest movements, climate activists began taking to the streets in the fall of 2018, revitalizing and reshaping the three-decade-old climate activist movement. This metamorphosis in climate activism, which has led millions around the world to participate in climate strikes and protests, is reflected in the composition of the activists themselves, who the media frequently portray as primarily young and female. In order to better understand this new and evolving landscape, we surveyed self-identifying climate activists. Our survey provides an overview of current climate activists, their attitudes, priorities, and actions. Here we map our findings, delineating differences based on gender, age, and geography. Our results indicate that the media’s focus on young female activists is warranted (at least in Europe and North America) and we find that while activists share a commitment toward rapid and substantial reduction of greenhouse gases, their attitudes and actions taken to address climate change can significantly differ by demographic group. 

Key Findings

  • Younger respondents were more likely to be women whereas older respondents were more likely to be men. 
  • 43% of our respondents were under 34 years old; 25% were between 25 and 34 years old; and 18% were under 24.
  • In contrast to male activists, female activists made careful purchasing choices based on climate and environmental considerations, choosing more sustainable brands, purchasing and recycling used materials such as clothing. They were also more likely to be vegetarian. Women were also more pessimistic about our ability to respond to climate change and also more likely to be concerned with the impact of climate change on poor and vulnerable populations.
  • When it comes to where activists have gained their understanding of climate issues, learning in schools ranked consistently and significantly as the least important source across all age groups. Respondents instead indicated that they learn more from their own study, from scientists, and from their peers.
  • Activists under 24 were significantly more likely to be vegetarian or vegan. Both those under 24, as well as those between 25 and 34, were significantly more likely to indicate that they were ‘not confident’ that we would be able to ‘prevent the worst impacts’ of climate change and that ‘serious effects will occur that mainly impact poor and vulnerable populations’.  Although climate activists of all ages responded that they participate in public marches, survey results indicated that those under 25 were significantly more likely to participate in school strikes and were more involved in climate related school and/or community activities.
  • Most (90%) reported that they have communicated with others about climate change, limited waste, including food waste (87%), conserved energy (83%), and made careful purchases (78%). Roughly a third (32%) indicated they had divested their own finances from institutions and funds tied to fossil fuels. A majority indicated they had reduced meat and dairy (52%), while about third had become vegetarian (22%) or vegan (10%).
  • A strong majority (70%) had participated in public protests and in climate strikes (43%). Nearly a quarter had participated in ‘civil disobedience’ (23%), and a small minority (4%) indicated they had been involved with ‘uncivil disobedience’, both of which were undefined.