Skip navigation

COVID-19, Climate Change and Environmental Advocacy

April 27, 2020


Dana R. Fisher, Professor of Sociology, University of Maryland
Nina Hall, Assistant Professor of International Relations, SAIS Europe

The Bologna Institute for Policy Research (BIPR) hosted a webinar on the challenges that COVID-19 poses to climate and environmental activism. Dana R. Fisher and Nina Hall discussed how activists are reconsidering their tactics and strategies in a world of social distancing and government lock-downs, whether activists are building new inter-generational or transitional societies, and how successful they expect activists to be at keeping climate change on the global agenda.

Nina Hall started the conversation by providing an overview of current developments in climate activism. 2019 was a momentous year for climate activism in terms of global spread and total numbers of activists taking to the streets. The movement received a significant amount of attention from both the public and decision makers. The outbreak of COVID-19 poses a challenge to this momentum since climate activism was forced to go online. As street protests had been one of the most effective tools of the movement in 2019, the current switch to online strikes limits the activists’ abilities to connect with new audiences. Hall asked whether the climate and environmental movement will outlast the COVID crisis. She mentioned three possible scenarios for the future: The protests might continue online, but less effectively and with fewer participants. They might continue online with strong support form participants, but might fail to reach decision makers. Lastly, activists may find ways to be effective online and come back strong once lock-downs are lifted, particularly if they use the current situation creatively to rethink how the economy can be transitioned.

The conversation then shifted to the United States, as Dana R. Fisher discussed findings from her ongoing research on the Youth Climate Movement and the American Resistance. Fisher found clear evidence that the Youth Climate Movement is channeling young people with experience in the American Resistance who have a concern for climate change. She found consistent levels of civic engagement among supporters of the movement, as many of them had also participated in protests including the Women’s Marches of 2017 and 2018, the US National School Walkout of 2018 or the March for Our Lives in 2018. She argued that climate change has emerged as an area of concern connecting an increasingly diverse population in the current cycle of contention in the US. While the movement continues to be populated by young people, Fisher pointed out that climate issues were also reflected among adults. As central motivation for protestors she mentioned issues of climate change and environmental issues more broadly, while the presidency of Donald Trump served as another big motivator. Lastly, she stated that COVID-19 is significantly affecting the political work of activists, with strikes on zoom having become the most common form of online activism.

The Bologna Institute for Policy Research (BIPR) hosted a webinar on the challenges that COVID-19 poses to climate and environmental activism.