Climate activism through membership in mainstream environmental and political organizations is the most common expression of dutiful dissent. For example, young citizens may be encouraged to seek alternatives to prevailing ideals or practices through their religious convictions.
There are, however, significant risks and limitations to dutiful dissent. A dutiful approach seldom disrupts the underlying causes of climate change, including the economic and development paradigms or models that are responsible for the climate change in the first place Hayward , Pelling et al.
Furthermore, although such actions may reflect or foster an important sense of responsibility for others, deeper structural issues and political power imbalances are seldom challenged through dutiful dissent. By its very nature, dutiful dissent may promote a depoliticized or postpolitical response to climate change that frames it in consensual and technocratic terms Swyngedouw a , b , , Kenis and Lievens To be clear, dutiful dissent expressed though youth activism on climate change should not be confused with pandering to the status quo.
Young people engaged in dutiful dissent are committed to change and recognize the importance and power of exploiting windows of opportunity within current structures and systems. Indeed, dutiful dissent plays an important and constructive role in ensuring that conversations about climate change are visible and that responses are prioritized and enacted through policies and practices.
Dutiful actions like community gardening can also create new public spaces that provide a forum for discussions and alliances of solidarity with marginalized members of the local community, potentially encouraging collective agency and promoting progressive political activities Crossan et al. Dutiful dissent can provide young people with important skills and insights on the current political, economic, and institutional landscape that may inspire or motivate engagement with other types of dissent, including more disruptive modes.
Disruptive dissent can be considered a type of activism that arises when young citizens concerned about climate change question and seek to modify or change existing political and economic structures, which include norms, rules, regulations, and institutions.
Disruptive actions explicitly challenge power relationships, as well as the actors and political authorities who maintain them, often through direct protests and collective organization. They may involve starting or joining petition campaigns or boycotts, disrupting international climate meetings to draw attention to hypocrisy and exclusion of important voices, or protesting key concerns through political marches or rallies. Disruptive dissenters usually report that they are more interested in critiquing, challenging, and changing the system than working dutifully within it.
Climate activists engaged with disruptive dissent are thus mobilizing against the systems and institutions they perceive as maintaining unsustainable and unjust policies and practices. Collective action against the production and distribution of fossil fuels is a good example of disruptive dissent. Fierce solidarity. Although open to people of all ages, this initiative provides a platform for youth to engage in dissent that adheres to strategic values such as peaceful direct action, escalating levels of risk and pressure, mass participation, and global action.
Visible critiques and symbolic acts of dissent can trigger awareness and social reflection, generate debate, open spaces for new actors and issues, and create momentum for social change. By introducing new concepts, ideas, methods, or tactics for achieving desired change, disruptive dissent can represent an important strategy with far-reaching impacts. However, the alternative forms of citizenship and participation expressed by youth are typically resisted, rejected, or ignored by the political elite and establishment Weller , Selboe , Taft and Gordon This approach also introduces risks, particularly the risk of being co-opted by prevailing agents and institutions that constrain the autonomy of youth, especially within the context of globalization and neoliberal reforms Hayward In some cases, individual rights may be curtailed through antiprotest laws or by invoking counterterrorism laws to keep people quiet.
This was the case of the political movement Climate Justice Action CJA and its struggle to challenge the postpolitical and consensual debate on climate change. In some cases, those who are interested in social change eventually work with those in power and express their dissent in a more dutiful manner. In other cases, disruptive dissent may provide a platform for solidarity while youth pursue change through other means, including what we refer to subsequently as dangerous dissent.
Dangerous dissent involves a type of political activism that defies business as usual by initiating, developing, and actualizing alternatives that inspire and sustain long-term transformations. This includes a wide spectrum of actions, ideas, discourses, practices, tactics, alliances, and technologies. Dangerous dissent refers to the degree of threat that these alternatives present to established power elites and investments over the medium and long term. Like disruptive dissent, it does not recognize existing institutions and power relationships as fixed or given.
What makes this type of dissent dangerous is that it generates new and alternative systems, new ways of doing things, new types of economic relationships, and new ways of organizing society.
Who politicized the environment and climate change?
Although dangerous dissent is not always recognized as climate change activism, it can be a powerful move to undermine influential interests and transform social norms that are complicit in maintaining current systems of unsustainable growth, high greenhouse gas emissions, and deep social injustice. Dangerous dissent challenges existing paradigms or ways of understanding the relationship between climate change and social change.
In relation to climate change, dangerous dissent is perhaps most powerfully expressed through the postdevelopment and anticonsumerist philosophies of degrowth movements and the climate justice and just transition movements Demaria et al. Degrowth movements are dangerous in that they challenge a basic tenet of capitalism, instead advocating for downscaling of production and consumption and a greater focus on care, solidarity, and cooperation. Some actions may be dangerous without involving an open critique of the systems and structures that contribute to and perpetuate climate change.
In this process, new visions and powerful narratives emerge from a different view of what the system and the future might look like, and responses are no longer focused on one specific claim, e. Instead, they offer plausible alternative orientations, practices, and social arrangements for prosustainable change. The propositional praxis of youth activism can be particularly dangerous to those in power and to those with vested interests in maintaining systems that undermine sustainability. Dangerous dissent against transborder policies and environmental governance in the U. Through three case studies, Lejano et al.
Indeed, socially conscious young people are increasingly seeking options that they consider to be more meaningful and that contribute to a better world, to the detriment of traditional sectors, including investment banks and established news organizations. According to a Gallup study, although millennials in the United States want a purposeful job and a life with active community and social ties, many report feeling less emotionally and behaviorally connected to their job and organization.
This disengagement has repercussions for the economy. A New York Times article by Sidney Ember describes the difficulties faced by the advertising industry in recruiting young talent:. Dangerous dissent does not have to be strategic, but it often involves a clear vision of new and desired futures Satell and Popovic It may emerge as part of social activism, but it goes beyond the critiques associated with disruptive dissent.
For example, alternative market relationships, such as direct farmer-to-consumer exchanges, can evolve to become a form of dangerous dissent. In this case, these new relationships can pose challenges to food distributors and supermarket chains. Bringing together new, seemingly unrelated actors and issues and experimenting with economic models that prioritize human relationships or with plant-based diets that respect the rights of animals while decreasing greenhouse gas emissions can be a powerful way to elicit change.
Dangerous dissent thus forms the seedbed for new forms of solidarity Bauman However, one of the possible drawbacks to dangerous dissent is that it may pose no immediate threat to dominant systems. To some extent, dangerous dissent can be tolerated. For example, alternative communities such as transition towns may not actually challenge dominant power relations and may in fact help maintain them if the movement remains the preserve of middle-class and young elite communities Smith , Feola and Nunes In some cases, novel forms of social organization, such as the sharing economy, may not be as progressive as they seem.
One criticism of the sharing economy is that venture capital and for-profit platforms have too frequently co-opted what began as a progressive, socially transformative idea Schor As we discuss subsequently, a combination of dutiful, disruptive, and dangerous dissent may be necessary to support social transformations as an effective response to climate change. The clock is ticking, and the future for young people today will be largely decided by generations that will be gone before the most severe impacts of climate change are felt.
Dutiful, disruptive, and dangerous dissent represent three complementary and mutually reinforcing pathways for youth to express dissent, agency, and influence over their future. Table 1 summarizes some of the distinguishing factors among the three types, as well as the risks associated with each of them, as discussed previously. The point of this typology is not to advocate for one type of dissent over another, but rather to draw attention to the ways that the three types actively work together as expressions of dissent through climate change activism among youth.
The degrowth movement, presented previously as an example of dangerous dissent, illustrates the way that multiple types of dissent can support each other. It was launched as a challenge to continuous economic growth, with the goal of realizing a voluntary societal shrinking of production and consumption consistent with social and ecological sustainability. Demaria et al. By identifying, naming, and valuing different socio-environmental futures and proposing radical change through alternative meanings and ways of doing things, the movement can indeed be considered a powerful example of dangerous dissent.
At the same time, there are also reformist strategies within the degrowth movement; dutiful dissent can be expressed by working for social transformation within existing institutions or by calling for their preservation and reform, e. According to Demaria et al. An awareness of the different modes of dissent and their strengths, limits, and implications for climate activism among youth is critical. Education plays an important role in empowering youth with the knowledge and skills to engage effectively with climate change Westheimer and Khane , Westheimer Youth education on climate change often focuses on providing information about the climate system and the impacts and consequences of climate change for society.
Education for dissent and action on climate change requires critical thinking, including reflection on individual and collective attitudes and approaches to power, as well as greater attention to issues of social and environmental justice. Critical thinking is essential to challenging the assumptions and interests that maintain business as usual and for developing strategies and actions that directly confront those with vested interests in systems and structures that perpetuate climate change and social inequality Mitchell Hytten argues that studying and participating in civic activism, social movements, collective mobilization, and resistance can provide valuable resources for deepening democracy.
We suggest that through direct experiences with dutiful, disruptive, or dangerous dissent, youth may gain important insights into social change, systems change, citizenship, and democracy that many education systems are currently failing to provide Hayward Our goal has been to draw attention to the complex relationships of power that young activists are frequently required to navigate and to the varieties and likely consequences of diverse expressions of dissent.
Instead, it may be time to recognize the many facets, forms, spaces, and expressions of youth dissent. Despite diverse expressions, all forms of political dissent suggest a belief or presumption of agency, that is, the ability of individuals to imagine a different future and a sense of purposeful expression of opinions or actions that are at variance with dominant or commonly held beliefs.
By drawing attention to multiple ways for youth to express their agency both within and outside of traditional political processes, we highlight the ways that they are challenging the interests and power relationships that are perpetuating an unsustainable future.
However, not all forms of dissent and climate activism are equally challenging to the status quo, and not all forms of dissent can be interpreted in a positive light. Indeed, dissent can be manufactured as a result of failed expectations and frustration with the lack of alternatives or as a result of a lack of voice and access to democratic processes Herman and Chomsky If there are no constructive outlets for dissent, there is a risk of moving toward withdrawal, inaction, or angry violence.
Within the context of climate change, such anger may be directed against other marginalized people, such as migrants fleeing violent conflict, economic impoverishment, and environmental degradation. As we have emphasized, the lines between dutiful, disruptive, and dangerous dissent are fluid rather than fixed.
However, more empirical research is needed in different geographic and social contexts to identify how different modes of dissent are both evolving and challenging existing cultural, social, economic, and political systems, while also creating viable alternatives. There is no doubt that the visions and values of young people have to be seen, heard, prioritized, and realized through climate change activism.
We argue that young people will be better placed to reclaim, reframe, and transform their future in a changing climate through critical reflection and a combination of dutiful, disruptive, and dangerous dissent. We would like to thank two anonymous reviewers for their valuable comments on the article, as well as the Research Council of Norway for funding Project , Voices of the Future: Values and Visions of Norwegian Youth on Responses to Climate Change.
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