When they do, according to new research, you can expect to see a lot of young women.
The newest generation of climate activists in North America and Europe is increasingly female and more likely to take concrete action to combat climate change, according to a new study published in the journal Energy Research & Social Science. The paper marks one of the first efforts to quantify the shifting demographics of the climate movement.
Mark S. McCaffrey, one of the authors who is also the founder of Education, Communication and Outreach Stakeholders, a nonprofit group that aims to help people and organizations make informed climate decisions, noticed press coverage of tens of thousands of young people protesting in the streets of New York City in September of 2019 as part of Climate Week. Back in the 1980s, climate activists were predominantly white men. “I thought it would be an interesting opportunity to try to learn more about who the activists were because there’s very little research on who are climate activists,” Mr. McCaffrey said.
The paper was based on voluntary survey responses from 367 people in 66 countries who identified themselves as climate activists. Of the respondents over 65 years old, just one quarter were women. The proportion of female activists grew steadily in younger age groups. For those under age 25, two-thirds identified as female.
Many factors could be driving that demographic trend. Jean Boucher, a postdoctoral environmental sociologist at Arizona State University and another author on the study, said the women’s empowerment movement following the election of President Trump may have brought more politically engaged women into climate activism.
“Most activists are already active in something else, like immigration, or in anti-torture,” Dr. Boucher said, citing earlier research. “When you know how to protest, and you know how to organize, you can just change the theme of the protest.”
According to Lily Gardner, 17, a youth organizer for the Sunrise Movement in Kentucky, the increasing number of women in climate activism could be tied to a rejection of traditional power structures. She said she sensed an increasing recognition that outmoded colonial, imperialist and white supremacist beliefs had led to a “real feeling of domination over the earth.”