Americans Increasingly Interested in Civil Disobedience to Spur Climate Action

Americans Increasingly Interested in Civil Disobedience to Spur Climate Action

A new analysis from the Yale Program on Climate Communication found that we may be at a tipping point when it comes to civil disobedience centered around climate change. Not only are many Americans noticing corporate and governmental inaction on climate change -- they are increasingly fed up with it.

The polling divided Americans into six groups, based on their viewpoints about climate change. From most concerned to least concerned, the classifications were: alarmed, concerned, cautious, disengaged, doubtful, and dismissive.

Ten percent of those who identified as "alarmed" -- a group representing 8.6 million adults in the US -- indicated they would "definitely'' engage in non-violent civil disobedience. Younger people (ages 18 to 40) and people of color -- who are feeling the climate crisis most urgently -- were cited as most willing to "support organizations or personally engage in non-violent civil disobedience" for climate.

Why This Matters

With the exception of the disengaged and dismissive categories, 5% of the other four groups expressed a "definite" willingness to participate in climate action. Five percent may not sound like much -- but according to political scientist Erica Chenowith, movements need active participation from only 3.5% of the population in order to effect social change. By this data, the US has the potential to be at the precipice of major change.

At the Precipice

Recent events appear to corroborate the results of this analysis. A group of scientists and activists called Clean Creatives is targeting PR groups responsible for greenwashing with growing success. Another group, made up of law students, has launched a campaign against Gibson Dunn in response to the law firm's pro-fossil fuel activity. Meanwhile, Indigenous-led campaigns against fossil fuel infrastructure continue to gain momentum. And across the world, young people prepare to demand climate reparations and climate justice at the upcoming 2022 Global Climate Strike.

If the country has learned anything from previous social movements, it's that non-violent civil disobedience has the power to motivate officials and corporations into action.

The Years Project: Why the Climate Movement Is Powerful With Yale's Anthony Leiserowitz, May 12, 2021.