Research Summary

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

Youths’ everyday climate crisis activism can make important contributions to a more sustainable future

Children's Geographies

This theoretical/conceptual article addresses youths’ everyday climate crisis activism. Basic understandings framing the discussion relate to (1) how youths’ climate activism encompasses both individual and collective efforts and (2) how such efforts can be enabled and constrained by institutional and structural forces. Youths’ everyday climate crisis activism, as described in this paper, involves “interrupting and altering one’s own – and influencing others’ – actions according to their perceived climate impact.”

A clear distinction is made between traditional activism and everyday activism. Traditional activism tends to take the form of protest demonstrations in the public sphere with the intent of making direct impact on public policies. Traditional activism reflects a “top-down” approach to change. Everyday activism, on the other hand, takes place within youths’ personal spheres of influence, including family and peers. This approach reflects a “bottom-up” counterculture approach to change. “Everyday activism is culture shifting, changing the social landscape upon which non-sustainable practices take root, flourish, or wilt – with direct and indirect consequences for the climate crisis.”

While it’s generally recognized that both top-down and bottom-up actions are necessary to address the climate crisis, formal educational programs for youth tend to focus on the top-down approach. “In schools, the climate crisis is framed as a matter of scientific interest with primarily technical solutions rather than as a deeply human issue of profound global significance with multi-layered socioecological consequences.” This top-down approach reflects “a missed opportunity to support children’s awareness, agency, and action on a pivotal issue”. Children should be invited to “think about, connect to, and act on climate change in personally meaningful ways.”

Participatory and arts-based approaches can be used to support youths’ everyday climate crisis activism. Arts-based approaches not only encourage young people to envision alternative, more sustainable futures, they also invite reflection on how to get there. This bottom-up process can be empowering for children and youth, operate as an antidote to despair, and lead to both micro- and macro-level social change for a more sustainable future.

Trott, C. D. (2021). What difference does it make? Exploring the transformative potential of everyday climate crisis activism by children and youth. Children's Geographies . doi: