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    Research paper: Climate concern increases following major protests/civil disobedience


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    Opinion Insight 8th April 2024

    Research paper: Climate concern increases following major protests/civil disobedience

    In an open access paper published in the journal Nature Communications, a large sample of the German public (more than 24,000 people) was surveyed before and just after major climate protests/civil disobedience took place.

    Following what the authors describe as ‘confrontational’ protest acts, levels of reported concern about climate change rose by just over 1% (not a huge number, but a meaningful uptick nonetheless with a sample of this size and given the high level of pre-existing concern in Germany).

    Interestingly, there was no sign of political polarisation either. And although the political context in Germany differs in a range of ways to the UK, the study offers direct evidence that significant protests do ‘cut through’ in terms of national public opinion. This is not always easy to demonstrate without his form of ‘before and after’ study design.

    In another new open access paper on a similar topic, researchers asked US participants in an online experiment to give their views on a range of civil disobedience tactics. They concluded:

    Most Americans view climate-related NVCD as appropriate if it is non-violent and targeted towards those companies or entities which are responsible for taking actions to the detriment of the climate. This could be in the form of promoting fossil fuel use, or even accepting fossil fuel financing. Conversely, actions that are violent, or targeted at entities not seen as being responsible for exacerbating climate change are seen as inappropriate targets.

    Gradually, the evidence base on how contemporary protest tactics are actually landing with members of the public is building. Studies like these are important for checking assumptions about the way in which people react to protests involving civil disobedience.

    Concern levels are likely to temporarily tick upwards when protests capture the media spotlight, even if the elite commentary that gets the most bandwidth is high critical of demonstrations. But the more that protests can do to focus in on ‘valid’ or ‘legitimate’ targets, the higher the chance of bringing the wider public along.

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