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Growing and Diversifying Youth Climate Activism

A survey conducted by CIRCLE and ACE illuminates barriers to participation and highlights strategies that can expand young people's engagement in climate action.

Advocacy and activism can be valuable pathways for young people to participate in civic life and effect change on the issues affecting their lives, peers, and communities. It can also be a way to connect young people's concerns to voting and expand the electorate. However, as with casting a ballot, there are inequities in who is and isn't participating that can often be traced back to differences in access and barriers to joining a movement or taking action.

In 2022, CIRCLE partnered with Action for the Climate Emergency to explore those barriers and opportunities for growth in relation to climate activism. In recent years, climate change has emerged as a top issue that motivates young voters and influences their choice at the polls, and a major focus of youth activism. That activism may also be having an impact on elections: a previous study by CIRCLE and other researchers found that counties where more climate change protests took place had modestly higher rates of youth voter registration.

Our new research with ACE, based on a unique survey of young people ages 14-25, highlights which groups of young people are more or less likely to be involved in climate activism, the types of actions they take, and their perceived capacity to take action. Our in-depth examination of the data, led by CIRCLE postdoctoral researcher Sara Suzuki points to potential strategies for growing and diversifying the communities of youth who are actively engaged in environmental advocacy and activism.

Among many other findings, we highlight:

  • Interest and concern over climate and the environment exist among youth across geography, gender, race/ethnicity, ideology, and political party affiliation, which suggests there is substantial opportunity to increase the climate actions being taken by youth.
  • Young people who do not self-identify as liberal or as a Democrat (and even some who do) want additional skills and support to take more action. While they express concern for the climate, young people who identify as conservative, Republican, or say they do not know their political ideology are less comfortable speaking with others on this topic, suggesting a need for opportunities to build this comfort and skills
  • A focus on organizing events among diverse youth of color may indicate a need for more communal organizing opportunities.
  • Different messages and ways of presenting climate-related issues may be more motivating for youth who have been disengaged so far to take action.
  • There is a positive relationship between taking climate action and likelihood to vote that may help promote greater and more equitable electoral engagement.

We encourage leaders and organizations focused on young people's engagement on diverse issues to read the full paper, explore our findings, and consider how they may shape their efforts and programming.