Diversifying the climate movement

“Significant work” is needed to ensure Black and Asian communities are more involved in environmental protests, a new report says.

Extinction Rebellion decided to change its tactics, moving away from disruptive blockades to more publicly acceptable forms of action to build a broad-based movement, in the winter of 2022. Experts have conducted research to see if the organisation was succeeding in its attempt to broaden its supporter base.

Analysis of participants attending the April 2023 peaceful four-day and 50,000-strong ‘The Big One’ (TBO) protest shows that participants from a variety of ethnic backgrounds were better represented than in previous Extinction Rebellion demonstrations. However, Black and Asian and other minority ethnic participants remained under-represented compared to the make up of the UK population, apart from those who are mixed-race.

Bias 

A total of 89 per cent of participants who were randomly sampled for a survey response were white compared to 83.4 per cent in the general UK population, 0.4 per cent were Black compared to 4 per cent in the UK) 2.7 per cent were Asian / Asian British compared to 9.3 per cent of the general public and 7.5 per cent were mixed race compared to just 2.2 per cent of the UK public.

Professor Clare Saunders, from the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, Cornwall at the University of Exeter, and her team received survey responses from 611 The Big One participants and took special measures to ensure random sampling and to reduce response rate bias.

Professor Saunders said: “Participants felt that TBO was effective at reaching a diverse public, but there is more work to do here. Green and Labour Party supporters are over-represented and Black and Asian communities are still under-represented. There is significant work to be done with and through Black and Asian community networks and local political parties.”

Non-violent  

More than half – 57 per cent – of those who took part in the demonstration had participated in climate change demonstrations less than five times before, and 18 per cent were first-time climate change demonstrators.

Participants thought the demonstration was relatively successful at attracting a diverse array of supporters and at illustrating the value of non-violent direct action. They were less convinced of its ability to persuade the government to adopt better policies or employ climate citizens’ assemblies, or to persuade bystanders of the importance of the cause.

The majority of participants were active in environmental organisations, and nearly half of them were in community organisations – markedly lower than at previous climate change demonstrations and rebellions.

Supporters 

Taking part in low-risk forms of political action, for example, petitions and ethical consumerism – was common among participants, with slightly higher numbers claiming to be more likely to participate in these after they participate in the event. Violent forms of action were unpopular.

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