The climate movement of youth is one of the most visible phenomena of our time in civil society. Youth have claimed the public sphere in order to address the climate crisis and the urgency of actions needed. The action and resistance practised by youth has evoked public discussion concerning not only the climate crisis, but also the political agency and citizenship of youth in the era of crisis. My master’s thesis “We have a say, we must act, now – youth as climate active citizens” (Ahola 2021) examines youth climate action from the perspective of political agency. The study focuses on the formation process of agency, in addition to which the supportive and preventive factors of agency are explored. Drawing on qualitative interviews with 12 Finnish youth aged between 15 and 19, the study also contributes perspectives on global education and global citizenship.
The Maastricht global education declaration (2002) states: “global education is education that opens people’s eyes and minds to the realities of the world, and awakens them to bring about a world of greater justice, equity and human rights for all”. In the interview data, descriptions of eyes opening and awakening to the reality of the climate crisis and its social consequences were identifiable (cf. climate realization, Pihkala 2019). For most of the youth, the process of climate active agency formation took the first steps in late 2018 followed by the IPCC report and global school strikes. The interviewees discussed about a moment of awakening, where their way of seeing the world and being in the world was transformed for good. Something that they cared for – whether it was nature, their future, the wellbeing of distant others, etc. – was threatened.
Before that I felt I had been in the dark, no one really talked about climate change. Some tiny matters at school sometimes, but one couldn’t understand the real severity of it. The increasing news led me to find out more… I was reading some studies. I don’t remember how far I read the report, quite far, and then… It made me feel terrible. (Roosa, 18)
As Roosa mentions above, becoming climate active happened outside of formal educational settings. For the youth, e.g. school was seen as a place where growth for political engagement was predefined and restricted instead of creating space for youth-led action. The moment of awakening was a rather self-educative experience, as the youth would not only get to know about, but feel the meaning of being connected to the world and understand their place – role, responsibility and lifestyle – in it. Questions of guilt, justice and moral responsibility or obligation stemmed from the understanding of the climate crisis as a social threat causing suffering both close and distant. For the youth, realizing they had to and they could do something in order to mitigate the climate crisis opened up and extended their political agency, and changes in individual behaviour, together with joining climate active collectives, followed.
I see the climate realization of youth as a counteraction to social inertia (Brulle & Norgaard 2019), as socially constructed silence around the topic of climate crisis begins to crack. Youth among other members of the public were faced with the uncomfortable reality of the climate crisis, caused by the unsustainable way of living. The IPCC report, school strikes, media attention and public discussion created a moment of crack (see Holloway 2010) by shedding light on the status quo. A moment of crack forges a space for saying no to business-as-usual, and saying yes to bringing about change. Saying no and yes by dissenting from the business-as-usual views, together with unconventional practices, may create disturbance, conflict and rebellion – both at individual and collective level of thinking, feeling and doing. But saying no and yes is first and foremost an act of care and an antidote to indifference and apathy. That is why moments of crack are a window of opportunity for the growth towards active and caring global citizenship.
Ahola graduated from social sciences in May 2021 with major in social pedagogy. Her master´s thesis is linked to Pedagogy of Concrete Utopias -project.
Ahola, Paula (2021) We have a say, we must act, now – youth as climate active citizens. Master´s thesis. University of Eastern Finland. Https://erepo.uef.fi/bitstream/handle/123456789/25125/urn_nbn_fi_uef-20210597.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y.
Brulle, Robert J. & Kari Marie Norgaard (2019) Avoiding cultural trauma: climate change and social inertia. Environmental Politics. Https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/09644016.2018.1562138.
Holloway, John (2010) Crack Capitalism. London: Pluto Press.
Pihkala, Panu (2019) Mieli maassa? Ympäristötunteet. Helsinki: Kirjapaja.
The Maastricht Global Education Declaration (2002) Https://rm.coe.int/168070e540.