It’s always a relief to find positive news stories when we feel disheartened by what is happening in the world. It’s even more of a relief when the news is something actionable.
We all know by now how important behaviour change is to minimise our personal carbon footprint. What is also true is how hard it can be to get the wider population to change behaviours or to even just get the message out there that changes need to be made.
Recently a study was released that shows that there is something that has been effective in eliciting large scale behaviour change and that something is protesting. The Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne (EPFL) investigated the impact of Greta Thunberg’s Fridays for Future climate strikes on people’s environmental choices and found that over a third of the Swiss people studied changed their daily habits as a result of the strikes. Even more heartening was the fact that study participants were not individuals who had participated in the strikes, so potentially not people who were already sympathetic to the cause.
The main changes revolved around transportation, consumer behaviour and recycling, with cycling instead of driving, international/interstate train travel instead flying, and switching to a more plant-based way of eating all reported as concrete changes. These might be simple changes, but they are effective, and it goes to show that public protests are a powerful tool for individual change.
Public protests do more than just inspire behaviour change however, they are also effective for raising awareness, changing attitudes influencing media, and putting pressure on governments.
Protests can be the arena where people learn about climate change and it’s impacts, and education in this way is an important prelude to social change. When there is a groundswell of activity, people start reorienting their views on an issue and public protests are the perfect opportunity for people to see the opinion of the masses on a particular issue. It also makes harder for the media to ignore or spin the issue.
Similarly, when a large portion of the population come together on an issue and demand change it can be difficult for governments to ignore them. Researchers at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, found that climate protests have played a significant role in driving climate policy change in recent years. It has been noted that protests can help shape and strengthen individual policy preferences, which alter the policy process.
There is a caveat, however, and that is that non-violent protests have the greatest positive impact while extreme protest actions actually reduce support for a cause. Recent disruptive protests which involved damaging property might still raise awareness of the issue, but support, emotional alignment and behavioural change isn’t likely to come along with it. This is why Extinction Rebellion have stated that going forward they will “prioritise attendance over arrest and relationships over roadblocks”.
All this should give us hope. If you ever think that speaking up, writing letters, joining marches or sit ins is a waste of time, think again. Resistance clearly is not futile.
Planet Ark does not take responsibility for the accuracy of the original information and encourages readers to check the references before using this information for their own purposes.