In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Young People and Climate Activism

  • Introduction
  • Starting Points
  • Special Issues and Collections
  • Resources for Activists and Allies

Childhood Studies Young People and Climate Activism
Catherine Walker, Benjamin Bowman
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 July 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 July 2022
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791231-0259


Young people’s climate activism is an emerging subfield within youth studies and environmental politics. It is of growing importance to students and researchers of young people, environmentalism, climate change, social change, democratic participation, and various other topics. While these fields have been revitalized by movements such as Fridays for Future (FFF) and School Strike for Climate (SS4C), scholarly interest in youth climate activism also derives from the complex and conceptually challenging nature of young activism, politics, and participation, and from a—still nascent—broadening of environmental movements toward greater social inclusion. Readers with interests in these conceptual counterparts can follow up examples in Starting Points and Special Issues and Collections. Subsequently, the collection includes three subsections organized under the title Storying Youth Climate Activism. The choice of the present continuous verb tense for this section reflects the ongoing and evolving nature of youth climate activism. This is followed by three subsections under the heading Repertoires of Activism, which relate to the various modes of action taken by young people across the world as they engage in action toward climate justice. In continuation, Intergenerational Interactions is organized into two sections, the first on media presentations of youth climate activism, and the second on young people and policymaking on climate change. Youth climate activism has also generated many valuable practical resources, some of which are included in the final section on Resources for Activists and Allies. Readers may trace a number of ongoing complexities that run across the collection and reflect the emerging, messy, and sometimes contradictory nature of youth climate activism and the scholarship written about it. Such complexities include the uncertain boundaries between what counts as activism and what does not, an expanding range of political repertoires, and the various ways young people are forging intergenerational and international solidarities based on calls for climate justice. Multiple inequalities mean that activism and activists in the Global North are more strongly represented in academic literature than those in the Global South (and, henceforth, in this collection), but this does not mean those Southern activisms and activists do not exist. Indeed, as can be seen in the Storying Youth Climate Activism sections, many climate justice, environmental justice, and climate action movements can be traced to the theory and action of marginalized people and communities of color in the Global South.

Starting Points

The study of young people’s climate activism, like the field of youth activism more broadly, is an interdisciplinary field, and this is reflected in the range of disciplinary perspectives of the following books (encompassing and often bringing together political science, geography, sociology, youth studies, history, and education). While no handbook of youth climate activism yet exists, an engaging starting point is Hayward 2020, which weaves empirical research with children and young people into theoretical discussions of citizenship and the nature of political action and includes a wide range of activist contributions. The resulting work is an authoritative case study of children and young people’s ecological citizenship that is both informed by and has applicability beyond the authors’ Aotearoa New Zealand. Two edited collections on environmentalism are also recommended here for introducing key issues that underpin a great deal of current research on young people’s climate activism. These are, firstly, Bell 2021, which explores an intersectional approach to climate justice and includes a focused chapter on young people’s environmental activism, and, secondly, Grasso and Giugni 2022, a primer on environmental movements with a chapter dedicated to young people. Widening out from a specific focus on environment and climate, much youth climate activism work has been informed by the burgeoning global scholarship on young people’s politics, from which three handbooks are included in this section. Bessant 2021 offers a challenging and convincing theoretical examination of the role young people have played in democratic politics, from the eighteenth century to contemporary movements, including climate action. A more focused examination of contemporary movements is found in Bessant, et al. 2021, a comprehensive, multivolume textbook on young people’s politics, which offers an empowering primer on the political repertoires—or modes of action—of young people across the world. Another textbook offering a range of international case studies but framed around the subdiscipline of political geography is Kallio, et al. 2016, which contains the work of forty-three authors from across fourteen countries.

  • Bell, Karen. Diversity and Inclusion in Environmentalism. Abingdon, UK: Routledge, 2021.

    DOI: 10.4324/9781003099185

    Young people’s climate activism is characterized by commitments to climate justice, and this edited collection is an approachable guide to the challenges of justice and injustice in environmentalist movements, including gendered, racialized, and other intersecting inequalities. Chapters do not victimize but rather show how various marginalized groups resist dominant frameworks and undertake environmentalist causes and practices on their own terms. Young people themselves are considered in a dedicated chapter.

  • Bessant, Judith. Making-Up People: Youth, Truth and Politics. Abingdon, UK: Routledge, 2021.

    This excellent guide to young people’s place in democracy traces the history of youth politics forward to contemporary movements, including climate activism. Young people are conceptualized as a historically marginalized constituency. It explores the ways that young people have been politically active since (at least) the eighteenth century, while also analyzing the problematic—and often conflicting—ways that societies represent young people as deficient, second-class citizens or noncitizens.

  • Bessant, Judith, Analicia Mejia Mesinas, and Sarah Pickard, eds. When Students Protest. Vol. 1, Secondary and High Schools. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2021.

    This first book in a three-volume series on a global wave of contention among young people provides international case studies of activism in schools. Of particular value are chapters investigating the historical roots of young people’s modes of protest, and chapters foregrounding movements and young activists in the Global South. The second and third volumes offer case studies of activism in universities in the Global South and North, respectively.

  • Grasso, Maria, and Marco Giugni, eds. Routledge Handbook of Environmental Movements. London and New York: Routledge, 2022.

    Rooted in social movement theory, but drawing together multiple disciplinary perspectives, this handbook offers critical appraisals and theoretical reviews of state-of-the-art approaches to understanding environmental movements, alongside a series of case studies exploring environmentalism around the globe. Young people feature in many of the chapters and are the primary focus of one chapter on youth in environmentalism, which includes empirical illustrations from fieldwork in the UK and France.

  • Hayward, Bronwyn. Children, Citizenship and Environment (#SchoolStrike edition). Abingdon, UK: Routledge, 2020.

    DOI: 10.4324/9781003000396

    Notable for its bold conceptual approach and dedication to social justice, as well as its clear writing and practical examples. The author presents empirical research with children and young people in an intergenerational framing. The book calls on adults—particularly educators, politicians, and policymakers—to support young people who want to make a difference, and highlights examples of activists, researchers, and educators working alongside young people.

  • Kallio, Kirsi Pauliina, Sarah Mills, and Tracey Skelton, eds. Geographies of Children and Young People: Politics, Citizenship and Rights. Cham, Switzerland: Springer Nature, 2016.

    Part of a major reference work comprising twelve volumes of research on children and young people’s geographies, this is a key text on young people’s politics from the disciplinary standpoint of geography. The volume brings case studies around the world together, creating not only a textbook on young people’s political geographies, but also establishing the boundaries of a coherent subdiscipline concerning the spatialities of young people’s rights, agency, and dissent.

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