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What difference does it make? Exploring the transformative potential of everyday climate crisis activism by children and youth

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What difference does it make? Exploring the transformative potential of everyday climate crisis activism by children and youth

Abstract

Given the enormity of the climate crisis, the transformative potential of ‘everyday’ activism is often questioned. In this theoretical discussion, I explore the real-world significance of everyday activism by children and youth. First, I emphasize the need for top-down policy change as well as bottom-up cultural shifts. Next, I describe the significance of young people’s everyday activism through the lens of countercultures, while highlighting agency-limiting practices common in present-day formal educational settings. Lastly, I call for participatory and arts-based approaches in facilitating youths’ everyday climate crisis activism, noting its potential micro-level benefits and its relationship to macro-level social change.
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Children's Geographies
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What difference does it make? Exploring the
transformative potential of everyday climate crisis
activism by children and youth
Carlie D. Trott
To cite this article: Carlie D. Trott (2021): What difference does it make? Exploring the
transformative potential of everyday climate crisis activism by children and youth, Children's
Geographies
To link to this article: https://doi.org/10.1080/14733285.2020.1870663
Published online: 06 Jan 2021.
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What dierence does it make? Exploring the transformative
potential of everyday climate crisis activism by children and
youth
Carlie D. Trott
Department of Psychology, University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, OH, USA
ABSTRACT
Given the enormity of the climate crisis, the transformative potential of
everydayactivism is often questioned. In this theoretical discussion, I
explore the real-world signicance of everyday activism by children and
youth. First, I emphasize the need for top-down policy change as well
as bottom-up cultural shifts. Next, I describe the signicance of young
peoples everyday activism through the lens of countercultures, while
highlighting agency-limiting practices common in present-day formal
educational settings. Lastly, I call for participatory and arts-based
approaches in facilitating youthseveryday climate crisis activism,
noting its potential micro-level benets and its relationship to macro-
level social change.
ARTICLE HISTORY
Received 29 June 2020
Accepted 27 December 2020
KEYWORDS
Activism; agency; arts;
children; climate change;
participatory action
In addressing the climate crisis, modifying everydaypractices can easily be dismissed as futile
when considering the tremendous scale of necessary change. As the argument goes, how could
the individual eorts of people or even the combined eorts of communities really matter
when their real-world impact is innitesimal compared to industrial-scale carbon pollution?
Those who grasp the staggering scale of global sustainability crises rightly emphasize the need
for structural and policy shifts to bring changes at the scope and scale necessary to avert the chan-
ging climates worst eects. But what is the transformative potential of everyday activism, especially
by children and youth? As ecosystems continue to destabilize around the globe and as young people
increasingly take their place in the public discourse, are emissions reductions the only meaningful
metric to assess progress towards a more sustainable future?
This theoretical discussion explores the real-world signicance of childrens everyday climate
crisis activism. First, I discuss the need for and reciprocal relationship between –‘top-down
(e.g. policy) and bottom-up(e.g. cultural) shifts in bringing global transformation to sustainability.
Next, through the lens of countercultures, I oer a critique of dominant cultural narratives that
limit childrens participation in society and often thwart the transformative potential of childrens
climate change engagement in formal educational settings. Finally, I emphasize the need for
alternative, action-based engagement models, especially participatory and arts-based methods,
that empower childrens climate change awareness, agency, and action as they are invited to envi-
sion and enact a sustainable future.
Changing policies versus changing cultures
Everyone can shape the world. We can talk with our friends
and we can talk about how to change the world.Miguel, age 10
1
© 2021 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group
CONTACT Carlie D. Trott carlie.trott@uc.edu
CHILDRENS GEOGRAPHIES
https://doi.org/10.1080/14733285.2020.1870663
Everyday environmental activism has been dened as individual and collective eorts to change,
adapt or disrupt ones own and otherseveryday practices in response to concerns about the nega-
tive impact of these practices on the environment as it is known, valued and imagined(Walker
2017, 14). In this article, youthseveryday climate crisis activism involves interrupting and altering
ones own and inuencing others’–actions according to their perceived climate impact. Examples
of such activism range from behavioral modications with direct environmental impact such as
altering ones consumption patterns to actions with a more indirect environmental impact such
as discussing the climate crisis with family and friends. Importantly, youthseveryday climate crisis
activism encompasses individual as well as collective eorts that, rather than being determined
solely by choice, are variously enabled and constrained by institutional and structural forces
(Evans and Jackson 2008). A key distinction between traditional activism (e.g. via protest) and
everyday activism is that, in the latter, climate-relevant routine behaviors and social practices are
the direct target of change, with a perhaps less direct impact on larger-scale public policies. More-
over, youthseveryday activism takes place within young peoples personal spheres of inuence (e.g.
family and peer networks), rather than in the public sphere.
As mentioned, the signicance of these sorts of behavioral shifts is often discounted when con-
sidered against the sheer scale of the sustainability crises we now face (Kenis and Mathijs 2012;
Shove 2010). Or, if not entirely written o, everyday activism is valued for its symbolic meaning:
sustainability-focused lifestyles and projects may represent what the world needs more of, but
their real-world impact by and large ends there (Taylor 2019). Until mandated or facilitated by pol-
icy, the argument goes, everyday actions are merely voluntary acts of virtue. A related critique is
that, if youth derive a sense of agency from their everyday activism, they are sorely misguided or
(perhaps worse) sorely misled by the adults who encourage their action. As this argument goes,
because their actions are clearly not enough, it is disingenuous to tell children that they are making
adierence.
2
Finally, and perhaps most discouragingly, everyday activism is sometimes perceived as
a distraction from truly consequential, transformative change that is the exclusive domain of struc-
tural-level and policy shifts (Kenis and Mathijs 2012; Schild 2016; Waldron et al. 2019). By burden-
ing young people with a sense of personal responsibility to solvethe climate crisis through their
own actions, this argument goes, todays adults are adding insult to injury while abdicating their
own responsibility for decisive action in the swiftly-closing window of time left to possibly do
so. In arguments discounting the utility of everyday activism, there is usually a comparison
made between the relative value of private- versus public-sphere behaviors alongside a merited cri-
tique of neoliberal ideology and its privatization of responsibilityfor the climate crisis (Huckle and
Wals 2015; Schindel Dimick 2015, 390; Trott and Weinberg 2020; Waldron et al. 2019).
Is everyday activism alone sucient to address the climate crisis? Obviously, it is not.
3
But is it so
futile, misguided, and burdensome as to be abandoned entirely? For numerous reasons that frame
the remainder of this paper, I would argue that surely it is not. What all of the above critiques have
in common is a justied sense of urgency around top-down policy shifts that enable sweeping
change in the immediate term over bottom-up shifts in culture that enable sustainable change
over the long term. In fact, both are necessary to address the climate crisis. As noted by van Kessel
(2020):
many humans hope for (and seek) a technological x for climate catastrophecarbon capture, and so on
but many of these do not address the underlying problems arising from worldviews (e.g. economies based on
perpetual growth, land as containing resources for exploitation), and thus such responses are incomplete at
best, and at worst would perpetuate the problem in a dierent way. (135)
The above critiques assume a dualism or mutual exclusivity between political and personal
activism, as if actions not directed at policymakers and powerholders are of no signicance. But
the worldviews, values, customs, and actions of individuals (in aggregate) are what make up culture
and culture matters.
2C. D. TROTT
As an anthropological concept, culture encompasses all that we mean when we talk about
norms, values, assumptions, traditions, and practices(Packalén 2010, 119).
The everyday actions and routine practices of individuals particularly in the global North
4
are a main driver of the climate crisis (Roy and Pal 2009). In a consumer society, consumption
is less about consuming specic goods and services and more about the consumption of meanings
(Baudrillard 1970; Evans and Jackson 2008, 18 [emphasis added]). For too many people, the good
lifeis dened by a culture of over-consumption and excessive waste. In the global transformation to
sustainability, consumerism is a cultural condition that must be addressed (Kagan and Burton
2014). To be more precise, what is needed are diverse and creative ways of living and interacting
in the world that confer a sense of meaning and well-being while respecting planetary boundaries
(Hayward and Roy 2019; Rockström et al. 2009).
Moreover, culture matters because cultural norms, values, and their shifts over time are the life-
blood of policy shifts variously aecting whether policies will be imagined, demanded, drafted,
enacted, embraced, enforced, or abolished (Solnit 2016). What are policies but formalized social
agreements? Policy and culture the top-downand the bottom-up’–are in dynamic, reciprocal
relationship to one another in an ongoing process of mutual constitution and change. Not only does
micro-level change gure into the potential for macro-level change, but also grassroots social
change takes on added signicance in the absence of top-down leadership (Ehrenfeld and
Homan 2013; Trott 2016). From this perspective, everyday activism by an informed and engaged
public, including children and youth, equates to real-world social change in action (brown 2017;
Nissen, Wong, and Carlton 2020;OBrien, Selboe, and Hayward 2018). As captured in the quote
above by ten-year-old Miguel, there is a role for everyone in shap[ing] the worldthrough everyday
interactions. In brief, everyday activism is culture shifting, changing the social landscape upon
which non-sustainable practices take root, ourish, or wilt with direct and indirect consequences
for the climate crisis.
Countering cultures of youth exclusion and inaction
I think that you can change the world.
You can save the world, even if youre a kid. Sarah, age 10
A counterculture has been dened as a way of life and set of ideas that are opposed to those
accepted by most of society(Oxford, n.d.). Everyday climate crisis activism by children and
youth is countercultural on two important levels having to do with what young people are doing
and how they are doing it. First, young people are challenging mainstream ways of life (e.g. materi-
alism, overconsumption) and reimagining the good lifefor the well-being of their own and future
generations (Nissen, Wong, and Carlton 2020;OBrien, Selboe, and Hayward 2018). Further, every-
day activism by children and youth challenges dominant cultural narratives around the proper role
of young people in society. In many Western cultures, including the United States, childhood is
commonly considered to be a period in which children prepare for adulthood (Kellett, Robinson,
and Burr 2004). In these cultures, early life is treated as a protected period during which children are
considered human becomings’–rather than full human beings’–who must learn, listen, and
absorb information from the sidelines of society (Qvortrup 2009). Viewed as adults in waiting,
young people are often left without a voice in consequential decisions and actions that aect
their lives (Vaghri 2018). Everyday activism by children and youth challenges these norms by posi-
tioning young people as agents of change.
Dominant constructions of childhood are reied in the formal U.S. classroom where childrens
lack of engagement with critical societal issues has garnered the criticism that the formal education
system has failed to empower them as citizens (Freire 1972; Sadler 2009). In the U.S., there is no
universal requirement or standardized curriculum to teach children about climate change, and
most teachers spend very little time if any on the subject (Plutzer et al. 2016)
5
. Moreover, when
CHILDRENS GEOGRAPHIES 3
young people learn about climate change in school, the issue is often de-politicized (Håkansson,
Kronlid, and Östman 2019). Specically, the climate crisis is framed as a matter of scientic interest
with primarily technical solutions rather than as a deeply human issue of profound global signi-
cance with multi-layered socioecological consequences (Feinstein and Kirchgasler 2015; Selby and
Kagawa 2010). Treated as a topic for the science classroom, much of the research literature linking
children and climate change has been pedagogical in nature, focused on eective teaching practices
for studentscomprehension and knowledge absorption (see Shepardson et al. 2011 for a review). A
recent review of climate change educational approaches found that just the factsteaching
remained more common than also the actionsapproaches (Monroe et al. 2019). In other
words, normative approaches to climate change education are often an exercise in top-down infor-
mation dissemination while framing the issue as one with primarily top-down solutions leaving
little room for young peoples active participation (Rousell and Cutter-Mackenzie-Knowles 2020).
Given that the formal classroom is the most likely setting where young people are intentionally
engaged on the issue of climate change, this is a missed opportunity to support childrens aware-
ness, agency, and action on a pivotal issue.
Education is widely recognized as a critical pathway to a more sustainable future. However,
instrumental approaches to education, by prescribing certain ways of thinking and behaving,
seem to contradict foundational principles of education (e.g. to develop autonomous thinkers;
Jickling 1992). According to Wals (2011),
education should above all focus on the kind of capacity building and critical thinking that will allow
citizens to understand what is going on in society, to ask critical questions and to determine for themselves
what needs to be done. (179)
Given current trends in climate change education, which limit childrens participation, there is a
need for empowering pedagogies that, in bottom-up fashion, invite children to think about, connect
to, and act on climate change in personally meaningful ways (Rousell and Cutter-Mackenzie-
Knowles 2020). In other words, there is a need for approaches that invite children to use their rad-
ical imaginationand to act on their ideas (Khasnabish and Haiven 2014). After participating in
such a program (see Trott 2019), ten-year-old Sarah (quoted above) experienced a perspective
shift such that changing the world became possible even if youre a kid.More broadly, there is
a need for a culture shift that urges adults to take seriously childrens perspectives and experiences
and to encourage their informed and active participation (Sanson, Van Hoorn, and Burke 2019;
Vaghri 2018). Indeed, such a bottom-up culture shift would make possible the more widespread
adoption of youth-centered practices through shifts in top-down teacher training and educational
policies that center childrens voices and actions.
Today, youthseveryday activism matters because it is showing us educators, researchers,
advocates where adults are failing them, both inside and outside the classroom. After all, this
is the purview of countercultural movements whose lifeways contrast so starkly with those of main-
stream society as to highlight the questionable values, norms, and actions of the dominant culture.
When considering the transformative potential of youthseveryday climate crisis activism, we must
consider not just what young people are doing, but what their doing does.
Participatory process: change from below
To save the world, you dont need a superpower. You dont need anything like that.
All you need is yourself and others to support you. Thats all you need. Bill, age 12
The classroom, however, is not the only arena in which children are learning about climate
change. Research shows that young peoples exposure to climate change takes place through a var-
iety of other sources such as on the internet and television, in news media and magazines, at
museums and zoos, and through books and movies (Kelsey and Armstrong 2012). These sources
are less likely to leave out the distressing social and political dimensions of the climate crisis.
4C. D. TROTT
Psychologically, children and adolescents report feeling worried and anxious about climate change,
including feeling like no one cares,leading some to experience depression and hopelessness (Strife
2012; Tejada, Nisle, and Jenson 2020, 89). Beyond its cultural signicance, youthseveryday acti-
vism matters because it can operate as an antidote to despair, an important coping strategy allowing
young people to shift perspectives between a focus on the abstract global reality and a focus on the
importance of concrete actions performed in daily life(Ojala 2007, 742). Even small actions can
serve the important function of osetting the negative psychological consequences of climate
change awareness. Moreover, young peoples experiences with action can begin to challenge inter-
nalized messages ubiquitous in the dominant culture of their inability as children to be compe-
tent knowledge-holders and capable change-makers in society (Trott 2019). Research has
documented that the everyday actions of young people may allow them to develop an individual
sense of competence, while their combined eorts may confer a collective sense of competence
both of which build a foundation for further engagement (Chawla 2020; Chawla and Cushing
2007). After participating in a youth-led climate action project (see Trott 2019), twelve-year-old
Bill (quoted above) came away feeling condent that people working together can make a
dierence.
While any opportunity for action is better than none, prescribing actions to people can limit
their sense of autonomy and motivation to engage (Palm, Bolsen, and Kingsland 2020). What is
needed, rather than top-down directives, are empowering, agency-building opportunities that
encourage young peoples leadership and active participation (Riemer et al. 2016; Trott 2020;
Trott, Even, and Frame 2020a). Participatory methods are especially relevant in this regard. Parti-
cipatory methods enable ordinary people to play an active and inuential part in decisions which
aect their lives [meaning] that people are not just listened to, but also heard; and that their
voices shape outcomes(Participation Research Cluster 2020). For example, participatory methods
could be used to invite young people to think critically about climate change and how they relate to
the issue, imagine alternatives, and decide how to act giving them ownership of the process and
allowing them to observe the ways in which their actions can be inuential (Ojala 2016; Öhman and
Öhman 2013; Trott 2019). Typically, participatory methods are applied with groups of young
people who design and implement action-focused research projects or carry out collaborative com-
munity-based projects, with tangible benets to young people and their communities (Peek et al.
2016; Trott, Even, and Frame 2020a). When these kinds of bottom-up initiatives are self-deter-
mined by young people or collectively determined by groups they are more likely to be eective
and to last over time.
In combination with participatory methods, arts-based engagement can be a powerful way to
facilitate young peoples meaningful climate change engagement (Bentz 2020; Derr and Simons
2020; Peek et al. 2016; Rivera Lopez, Wickson, and Hausner 2018; Rousell and Cutter-Macken-
zie-Knowles 2020; Trott 2019; Trott et al. 2020b). The climate crisis is notoriously complex and
multidimensional with historical, geographical, social, political, ethical, economic, and cultural
dimensions. Yet to date, the sciences have dominated youth engagement frameworks (Monroe
et al. 2019). Whereas the sciences can oer an important anchor point around which to conceive
of the problem and its multifaceted solutions (i.e. helping us to understand what is), the arts
can support critical reection and creative expression, allowing young people to envision alternative
and preferable futures and how to get there (i.e. helping us to imagine what if?; Trott, Even, and
Frame 2020a). After all, the arts are a powerful cultural force that have historically played an impor-
tant role in sparking social change. We who are compelled to work with young people for a sustain-
able future must expand beyond narrow science-focused framings and top-down engagement styles
to recognize the necessity of change from below. Doing so requires that we rst recognize the global
shift to sustainability for what it is a radical global movement aiming to transform our systems
and redirect our everyday realities towards modes of being and seeing that support the functioning
indeed ourishing of societal and ecological systems.
CHILDRENS GEOGRAPHIES 5
In social movements research, a distinction is made between demands-based approaches, which
appeal to external actors (e.g. authorities) for desired changes, and action-oriented approaches, in
which movement actors as agents of change exercise their own power to directly reach their
goals. Whereas the former is typied by protest politics, in which identity- or issues-based groups
appeal to powerholders for rights or recognition, the latter encompasses pregurative politics, which
is characterized by an ethos of not asking, just doingin order to create desired change in the here
and now (Trott 2016). Rather than requiring othersaction for change to occur, a pregurative
approach to social change seeks to create a new and better world in the shell of the oldby con-
structing alternative institutions and modes of interaction that reect a given movements desired
social transformations (Yates 2015). Whereas young peoples climate crisis activism through public
protest is making demands for necessary actions by todays adults, youthseveryday activism preg-
ures a more just and sustainable world by enacting change in the present moment. Like policy and
culture, rather than competing with or osetting one another, both kinds of shifts top-down and
bottom-up are meaningful and necessary in building a sustainable future. In fact, each lends
power to the other.
Conclusion
As climate crisis activism by young people becomes increasingly visible through global protest, a
much larger movement is taking place outside of the spotlight. Young people particularly
those in the global South have long been taking action to respond to environmental degradation
in their everyday lives (Walker 2020). Moreover, the same children whose amplied voices are mak-
ing demands for policy change are simultaneously experimenting with ways to live more sustain-
ably and to use their voices and actions to inspire change among friends, family, and community
members in the places where they live. And other young people around the globe, inspired by their
protesting peers, are making changes in their own lives, however small. In the U.S., younger gen-
erations are more likely to see climate change as a personally relevant issue, more willing to engage
in climate activism, and more likely to feel a sense of collective ecacy that their actions can make a
dierence (Ballew et al. 2020).
So, again, are emissions reductions the only meaningful metric to assess progress towards a more
sustainable future? I have argued here that it is not. Childrens everyday climate crisis activism
counts in ways that are perhaps not best captured or quantied using carbon calculus. As children
take up the climate ght socially and relationally through interactions with family and friends, they
are also taking on this ght within themselves, emotionally and psychologically. Youthseveryday
activism plays out in meaningful ways on both micro- and macrolevels. First, everyday activism by
children and youth allows them to develop a sense of agency to accompany their troubling aware-
ness, to feel that they themselves are capable of contributing to the widespread transformation that
is necessary and to feel a part of this collective shift. On a macro-level, the everyday actions of young
people amount to something powerful but diuse a global conversation taking place in many
languages about why we live the way we do, what better to live for, and how.
Notes
1. Quotes are from post-program focus groups with children who participated in Science, Camera, Action! an
after-school program I designed and implemented with ten- to twelve-year-olds. The program combined cli-
mate change education with youth-led participatory action (yPAR), the arts with the sciences, and youth-
designed everydayaction plans with collaborative community-based action projects (see Trott 2019,2020).
2. My own work has been subjected to this particular critique. On the other hand, my yPAR work was driven by a
frustration with the predominance of the ABCmodel (i.e. attitudes, behavior, choice) in psychology, which
too often overlooked the need for structural change (Shove 2010).
3. The actions of humans are critical to averting the most devastating impacts of climate change. The climate
crisis is, after all, a consequence of human decisions and actions. However, systemic change is necessary. I
6C. D. TROTT
agree with Alisat and Riemer (2015) that the climate crisis requires youth engagement that encompasses
intentional and conscious civic behaviors that are focused on systemic causes of environmental problems
and the promotion of environmental sustainability through collective eorts(14).
4. Following Hayward and Roy (2019), I use the terms global Southand global Northnot in the geographic
sense but in terms of ‘“social designation[s]for politically, environmentally, and economically vulnerable
communities that include socioeconomically underprivileged communities in rich nation contexts, while
similarly acknowledging at times global Northmay include highly privileged communities in poor nation
contexts(158).
5. Among the reasons given were science teacherslack of condence in, and lack of training to teach about
climate change. For some, climate change was not covered in their college training and the report called
for more professional development opportunities for these teachers.
Disclosure statement
No potential conict of interest was reported by the author(s). The work described in this manuscript complies with
ethical standards.
ORCID
Carlie D. Trott http://orcid.org/0000-0002-4400-4287
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CHILDRENS GEOGRAPHIES 9
... Climate change activism can take various forms and include diverse strategies specific to different cultures around the world (Thomas et al., 2019), ranging from symbolic acts to political mobilisation, depending on the meaningful participation (O'Brien et al., 2018) through which young people enact themselves as environmental citizens. The debate on private versus public behaviours, alongside a critique of neoliberal ideology and its privatisation of responsibility for the climate crisis (Dimick, 2015), is similar to the distinction made between traditional activism (e.g., via protest) and everyday activism (e.g., via lifestyle practices) (Trott, 2021). Nevertheless, individual resistance as a subject is less studied, despite its close connection to collective resistance (Holmberg and Alvinius, 2020). ...
... Similarly, Pickard (2019: 385) suggested that everyday activism is rather 'personalized because the personal project may include a collective action and shared ideals', such as preserving the environment. By performing their interpretive agency, young people challenge mainstream ways of life (e.g., materialism or overconsumption) (Trott, 2021) and confront dominant cultural narratives and adult-led green ideologies (Walker, 2017). They take part in climate demonstrations or join environmental campaigning groups. ...
... Thus, it is important to acknowledge inter-and intragenerational aspects, as well as the affective character of everyday activism. Trott (2021) argued that young people might perform their everyday activism in different ways, for example, by altering or influencing their consumption patterns or discussing the climate crisis with family and friends. When young people (as actors of change) protest, their actions also spur adults (e.g., parents) to act and to be part of collective resistance performed (Holmberg and Alvinius, 2021). ...
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When youth agency and climate change are understood in the context of Politics, they do not reflect young people’s everyday realities and their youthful engagement with climate change. Building on the performative understanding of citizenship, in this theoretical piece, I suggest a broader framing of youthful political agency and participation in the context of climate change and consumerism by referring to four basic lived political positionings: ‘victim’, ‘voter’, ‘rejecter’ and ‘interpreter’. I further argue that young people perform their interpretive agency by adopting everyday activism and green lifestyles while challenging adult-led conceptualisations of environmental ideologies.
... To concentrate on laypeople's everyday choices about consumption, transportation, eating patterns, and energy use is seen by some, at best, as promoting insignificant actions within the system and, at worst, as contributing to upholding unsustainable societal structures [4,5]. Others argue, however, that changes are needed at all levels of society, the micro, meso, and macro levels, and that every societal actor, therefore, needs to become involved [6,7]. The dichotomy between personal and political activism is seen as false according to these researchers and individual actions in everyday life could, under certain conditions, be a crucial part of a more profound transformation of society [7,8]. ...
... Others argue, however, that changes are needed at all levels of society, the micro, meso, and macro levels, and that every societal actor, therefore, needs to become involved [6,7]. The dichotomy between personal and political activism is seen as false according to these researchers and individual actions in everyday life could, under certain conditions, be a crucial part of a more profound transformation of society [7,8]. ...
... In addition to acknowledging behaviors within the system, such as voting and making climate-friendly consumer choices, or protesting against the system through for example demonstrations and civil disobedience, they also introduce a third form of possible transformative agency, namely something that they call dangerous dissent. This is a form of engagement that has not been much in focus concerning climate change (for an exception, see [7]). It challenges the current order not directly but by initiating, developing, and actualizing alternative ways of living that can inspire transformation. ...
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If we are going to be able to fight climate change in an effective way there is a need for a profound sustainability transformation of society. The question is how everyday pro-environmental behavior such as climate-friendly food choices should be looked upon in this context: as something that hides the need for structural change, or as a starting point for a profound transformation? The aim is to discuss how emotions related to conflicts encountered when trying to make everyday climate-friendly food choices in a society that is not always sustainable can be used to promote transformational learning. Interviews were performed with 15 adolescents. Emotions felt in relation to conflicts and how the youth cope were explored. The results show that the youth mainly felt individualized emotions of guilt, helplessness, and irritation and that they coped primarily by distancing themselves from emotions felt, but also sometimes in a problem-focused way and through positive reappraisal. Results are discussed in relation to theories about critical emotional awareness and prefigurative politics. It is argued that by taking account of emotional aspects related to everyday conflicts in a critical manner, issues such as justice could be brought to the surface and transformative learning could be enhanced.
... Narksompong and Limjirakan (2015) suggest that empowering young people on issues related to CC is essential. Trott (2021) also supports that everyone should become knowledgeable about CC already at childhood. Without the involvement of all the people, and particularly students, the planet will eventually be irrevocably b changed or destroyed (Agboola & Emmanuel, 2016). ...
... Narksompong and Limjirakan (2015) suggest that empowering young people on issues related to CC is essential. Trott (2021) also supports that everyone should become knowledgeable about CC already at childhood. Without the involvement of all the people, and particularly students, the planet will eventually be irrevocably be changed or destroyed (Agboola & Emmanuel, 2016). ...
... Narksompong and Limjirakan (2015) suggest that empowering young people on issues related to CC is essential. Trott (2021) also supports that everyone should become knowledgeable about CC already at childhood. Without the involvement of all the people, and particularly students, the planet will eventually be irrevocably be changed or destroyed (Agboola & Emmanuel, 2016). ...
... A fuller discussion of children's climate activism is beyond the scope of this essay. Current scholarship emphasizes how such activism can be an important antidote to the "climate despair" that can fuel eco-anxiety among children (Bowman and Pickard 2021;Davenport 2017;Nissen et al. 2021;Stanley et al. 2021;Trott 2021;Wu et al. 2020). 10 Elsewhere I too have interrogated the role of capitalism in constructing children into identities as excellent consumers, calling for practices with children that draw upon Christian faith as a counternarrative to consumer culture (Mercer 2004(Mercer , 2005a(Mercer , 2005b. ...
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As awareness grows of global warming and ecological degradation, words such as “climate anxiety”, and “eco-anxiety” enter our vocabularies, describing the impact of climate change on human mental health and spiritual wellbeing. Distress over climate change disproportionately impacts children, who also are more susceptible to the broader health, economic, and social effects brought about by environmental harm. In this paper, I explore children’s vulnerability to climate change and climate anxiety through the lens of ecofeminist practical theology. Ecofeminism brings the liberatory concerns of feminist theologies into engagement with those theologies focused on the life of the planet. Drawing on ecofeminism, practical theology must continue and deepen its own ecological conversion, and practical theologies of childhood must take seriously the work of making an ecological home, oikos, in which children are embedded as a part of the wider ecology that includes the more-than-human world. This requires foregrounding religious education with children toward the inhabitance of the earth in good and just ways. However, these theologies also must address children’s lived realities of increased anxiety over planetary changes that endanger life through practices of spiritual care with children that engage and support them in their distress toward participatory empowerment for change.
... In addition to ensuring youth participants are included as critical stakeholders with a seat at the table, the very act of inviting youth to participate meaningfully in the development of OE programming and research is a form of community engagement itself. Youth participation plays a critical role in building community capacity to address and solve inequities in outdoor access, not just because of the innovation that youth bring, but also because embracing youth participation is a step towards equity by acknowledging youth's rights and valuing their contributions as complete human beings (Fernandez et al., 2020;Trott, 2021). This "practices" paper summarizes select models for youth participation that can be applied specifically in OE contexts to foster youth agency while participating in traditionally adultcentered processes like program development and research design. ...
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This paper explores opportunities for outdoor recreation and education programs to support communities working to sustain or increase community vibrancy. Vibrancy is necessarily linked to our natural environment and the quality of and access to natural environments can impact community vibrancy outcomes. Outdoor recreation access and experiences support relationships with place via natural assets. A community’s natural assets and associated recreation, ecosystem services, economic, and broader wellbeing benefits collectively serve to elevate community vibrancy. Nature-based Placemaking (NBP) is an emerging community development framework that builds on a community’s natural assets to bolster community vibrancy. NBP could serve as a roadmap for nature-based community vibrancy efforts, providing direction and considerations for navigating vibrancy related challenges and opportunities. This work provides an NBP overview, outlines embedded concepts that informed development of the framework, explores its initial application, and poses questions and pathways for expanding and refining the NBP framework for broader applicability.
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In the current climate crisis, young people are portrayed paradoxically: victims and stakeholders, political protagonists and school truants. Based on ethnographic research with the climate movement, this article explores how youths manage their activism as it interfaces with their socialisation contexts, tracing prevalent adult antagonisms: radicalism, condescension and individualism. Drawing on sociological conceptualisations of climate precariousness and on an educational theorisation of subjectification, I argue that activists construct margins of resistance in their everyday political practices by incorporating processes that interrupt adult structures while reframing educational imagination. This highlights how the individual present is colonised by the risks posed to a collective future, leading adult power to be contested at a collective-public level (through performative reconfigurations of existing orders) and subverted at an individual-private level (by repurposing privileges towards climate struggle). Resistances to adultism uncover competing notions of future and education as integral to politicisation processes within the climate movement.
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Teacher education is pivotal to advancing pedagogies, practices, and content knowledge that promote sustainability literacy in formal education settings. To explore preservice teachers’ (PST) readiness to implement transformative sustainability learning with elementary (i.e. kindergarten to 6th grade) students, we analyzed unit plans created by PSTs in a sustainability teacher education course. Within these units, we looked for evidence of content and pedagogy which (i) embraces the complexity of human-environmental interactions, (ii) advances sustainability literacy by enlisting both knowledge and engagement, and (iii) mobilizes action in local and global contexts to advance social and environmental justice aims. We describe the range of topics and analyze the rationales and learning activities through the ‘Head, Hands and Heart’ framework for transformative sustainability learning. We found that, though most PSTs integrated learning objectives and activities intended to engage students’ heads, hearts, and hands into their units, they struggled to embrace the complexity of sustainability issues and to engage students in justice-focused action. We provide three recommendations for preservice teacher education to increase PSTs’ readiness to implement transformative sustainability learning.
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Despite being on the front lines of climate catastrophe, the voices and actions of critically affected groups are often overlooked. The present research partnered with Haitian youth—who are marginalized from climate decision-making on the basis of nationality and age—to explore and address sustainability challenges in their coastal community. Specifically, this study explored processes of individual and collective empowerment made possible through a community-based arts center course that integrated the arts and sciences to position youth as change agents for a more sustainable Haiti. Through interviews conducted with arts center staff and students, we found that the arts were critical in facilitating collective empowerment, particularly towards resisting and rewriting dominant cultural narratives that marginalize Haiti on the world stage and marginalize youth as critical actors for sustainability in their communities. Moreover, we found that integrating the arts and sciences had the potential to empower individual youth by supporting their critical awareness of environmental problems, their capacity to communicate with adults—including decision-makers—and by encouraging their active participation in transforming their communities. Findings of the present study have implications for youth-centered educational programs, collaborative research, and community organizing for intergenerational and climate justice.
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Scientists and sustainability scholars continue to make urgent calls for rapid societal transformation to sustainability. Science education is a key venue for this transformation. In this manuscript, we argue that by positioning children as critical actors for sustainability in science education contexts, they may begin to reimagine what science means to them and to society. This multi-site, mixed-methods study examined how children's climate change learning and action influenced their science engagement along cognitive, affective, and behavioral dimensions. For fifteen weeks, ten-to twelve-year-olds participated in an after-school program that combined on-site interactive educational activities (e.g., greenhouse gas tag) with off-site digital photography (i.e., photovoice process), and culminated in youth-led climate action in family and community settings. Participants were 55 children (M = 11.1 years), the majority from groups underrepresented in science (52.7% girls; 43.6% youth of color; 61.8% low-income). Combined survey and focus group analyses showed that, after the program, science became more relevant to children's lives, and their attitudes towards science (i.e., in school, careers, and in society) improved significantly. Children explained that understanding the scientific and social dimensions of climate change expanded their views of science: Who does it, how, and why-that it is more than scientists inside laboratories. Perhaps most notably, the urgency of climate change solutions made science more interesting and important to children, and many reported greater confidence, participation, and achievement in school science. The vast majority of the children (88.5%) reported that the program helped them to like science more, and following the program, more than half (52.7%) aspired to a STEM career. Lastly, more than a third (37%) reported improved grades in school science, which many attributed to their program participation. Towards strengthening children's science engagement, the importance of climate change learning and action-particularly place-based, participatory, and action-focused pedagogies-are discussed.
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Effective strategies to learn about and engage with climate change play an important role in addressing this challenge. There is a growing recognition that education needs to change in order to address climate change, yet the question remains “how?” How does one engage young people with a topic that is perceived as abstract, distant, and complex, and which at the same time is contributing to growing feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and anxiety among them? In this paper, I argue that although the important contributions that the arts and humanities can make to this challenge are widely discussed, they remain an untapped or underutilized potential. I then present a novel framework and demonstrate its use in schools. Findings from a high school in Portugal point to the central place that art can play in climate change education and engagement more general, with avenues for greater depth of learning and transformative potential. The paper provides guidance for involvement in, with, and through art and makes suggestions to create links between disciplines to support meaning-making, create new images, and metaphors and bring in a wider solution space for climate change. Going beyond the stereotypes of art as communication and mainstream climate change education, it offers teachers, facilitators, and researchers a wider portfolio for climate change engagement that makes use of the multiple potentials of the arts.
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Within a generation, children's lives have largely moved indoors, with the loss of free‐ranging exploration of the nearby natural world, even as research indicates that direct experiences of nature in childhood contribute to care for nature across the life span. In response, many conservation organizations advocate connecting children with nature, and there has been rising interest in measuring young people's connectedness with nature, understanding how it relates to their well‐being and stewardship behaviour and creating programs to increase connection. This article reviews the literature on these topics, covering both quantitative and qualitative studies. It notes that this research emphasizes positive experiences and emotions, even as global environmental changes and biodiversity loss accelerate. Young people's emotions of worry, frustration and sadness as they learn about environmental degradation also express their understanding that they are connected to the biosphere. Therefore this review includes research on how young people cope with information about large‐scale environmental problems, and it identifies practices to sustain hope. The review concludes by suggesting how research on connection with nature and coping with environmental change can benefit from integration. A free Plain Language Summary can be found within the Supporting Information of this article. A free Plain Language Summary can be found within the Supporting Information of this article.
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Background The school strikes for climate (henceforth, the school strikes) initiated by Greta Thunberg have brought young people’s environmental concerns to the global stage. However, there is a danger of considering youth environmental concerns only through the actions of highly mobilised young people who are heavily concentrated in the urban Global North. This article revisits qualitative data collected before the school strikes to consider how 11–14-year-olds in India and England interpreted and responded to environmental hazards and degradation in their everyday lives, and connected their situated experiences to narratives of global environmental crisis. The young people occupied a range of socio-economic positions and were experiencing different degrees of vulnerability to environmental hazards. Results All of the research participants were concerned about the future of the planet and their immediate environments. However, for the most environmentally vulnerable participants, future- and globally-oriented environmental concerns were overpowered by more immediate concerns. Although the young people were engaged in responses to environmental concerns, they did not see themselves as acting alone but rather with others around them, often adults. Some young people expressed doubt about the extent to which they as generationally-positioned individuals could make a difference to the problems discussed. These findings in many ways anticipate the school strikes, wherein young people are taking action to call upon adults to respond to environmental problems that young people recognise are beyond their individual capacities to resolve. Conclusion The environmental activism of a significant minority of young people is to be applauded, however, the interest in youth activism prompted by the school strikes runs the risk of flattening global inequalities in young people’s exposure to environmental hazards, access to education and global knowledge networks. There is a need to look beyond such high-profile activities to understand how young people around the world are interpreting and responding to environmental concerns as generationally-positioned individuals operating within broader regimes of power.
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This study evaluates the impact of exposure to messages that emphasize the need for changes in individual behavior or in public policy to address climate change attributed to a “climate scientist” or to an unnamed source. We implemented a large survey experiment ( N = 1915) online through Amazon’s Mechanical Turk (MTurk) platform that manipulated the presence of recommendations for voluntary behavioral changes or the adoption of new laws to mitigate climate change. We found that, regardless of the source of the information, recommendations for behavioral changes decreased individuals’ willingness to take personal actions to reduce greenhouse gases, decreased willingness to support proclimate candidates, reduced belief in the accelerated speed of climate change, and decreased trust in climate scientists.
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The year 2019 witnessed the gathering pace of a global climate movement, with millions of young people striking for climate action. While the contours of this activism are just beginning to emerge, the scale of the mobilisations to date suggest their consequences are likely to be profound – for participants, communities and the wider political environment. This paper looks to the literature on social movement consequences to consider the possible lasting effects of this climate activism for children and young people. In doing so, it seeks to advance more robust research engagement with the breadth of potential legacies, including those often overlooked or undervalued.
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It is urgent that educators in social studies and science (among other disciplines) consider the ethical imperative of teaching the climate crisis—the future is at stake. This article considers a barrier to teaching this contentious topic effectively: existential threat. Through the lens of terror management theory, it becomes clear that climate catastrophe is an understandably fraught topic as it can serve as a reminder of death in two ways. As will be explained in this article, simultaneously such discussions can elicit not only mortality salience from considering the necrocene produced by climate catastrophe, but also existential anxiety arising from worldview threat. This threat can occur when Western assumptions are called into question as well as when there is disagreement between those with any worldviews that differ. After summarizing relevant aspects of terror management theory and analyzing the teaching of the climate crisis as an existential affair, specific strategies to help manage this situation (in and out of the classroom) are explored: providing conceptual tools, narrating cascading emotions, carefully using humor to diffuse anxiety, employing language and phrasing that does not overgeneralize divergent groups, and priming ideas of tolerance and even nurturance of difference.