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Who are today’s climate activists? Dispelling 3 big myths for Earth Month

Dana R. Fisher, American University, The Conversation on

Published in Science & Technology News

As Earth Month 2024 gets underway, climate activists around the world are planning rallies and other events over the coming weeks to draw attention to the growing threats posed by climate change.

Many of these demonstrations will focus on what humanity can do to stop fueling the damage. But while activists are amplifying the dire findings from scientists, you’ll likely see fossil fuel supporters attacking them on social media and TV.

It’s easy to get caught up in the myths about climate activism, particularly in today’s polarized political environment. So, let’s take a moment to explore the truth about three of the big myths being told about climate activism and the climate movement today.

The media tends to focus most of its attention on young people in the climate movement, including those inspired by Greta Thunberg’s school strikes for climate, the international Fridays for Future, or the Sunrise Movement, which focuses on U.S. climate action.

Nevertheless, a substantial proportion of the active climate movement today is made up of older adults, including those called “climate grannies” and the “rocking chair rebellion.”

Just as young people have outspoken climate leaders, many of these older activists were inspired to get involved by longtime activists such as Jane Fonda and Bill McKibben and the group McKibben started specifically to mobilize older Americans: ThirdAct. As my research has found, these more mature activists cut their teeth in the civil rights and anti-war movements, along with earlier waves of the environmental movement.

 

Over the past 25 years, I have surveyed numerous waves of activists participating in demonstrations and protests to understand who they are and what motivates them to participate in activism. My new book, “Saving Ourselves: From Climate Shocks to Climate Action,” brings these findings together to understand how the climate movement has evolved along with the climate crisis.

When I surveyed participants at the March to End Fossil Fuels, which drew 75,000 people in New York City in September 2023, a quarter of the crowd was 53 years old or older. At a much smaller demonstration that targeted the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner in April 2023, I found the average age of the activists was 52, and a quarter of them were 69 or older.

While the activists engaging in civil disobedience, such as throwing soup on famous paintings or disrupting sports events, get the lion’s share of the media attention, the climate movement includes a wide spectrum of environmentally concerned activists using a broad range of tactics.

Activists are actively working to get climate-concerned candidates elected, pressure corporations to cut their emissions, encourage schools and municipalities to transition to electric buses, and make front-line communities more resilient to climate shocks, among many other efforts to slow climate change.

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