Students for Future. The Effects of Participating in a Global Climate Strike on Students' Pro-Environmental Consumer Behaviour

Scientific Study, 2019

67 Pages, Grade: 7.1

Johanna Melsheimer (Author)


Table of contents


I. Introduction

II. Theoretical Framework:
1. Participation in global climate strikes: Political participation
a. The concept political participation: requirements
b. The effects of social movements
2. Theories on pro-environmental consumer behaviour
a. The concept: pro-environmental consumer behaviour
b. Value- belief- norm theory: altruistic values
c. Multi- level factor model: endogenous and exogenous factors
d. Spill over effects

III. Methodology
1. Quantitative Methodology
2. Qualitative Methodology

IV. Quantitative results
1. The effects of the respondents’ belief in the possibility of achieving a change and the adoption of PECB
2. The effect of participants feeling of belonging to a group of likely-minded people and PECB
3. The effects of participating in a climate change protest on PECB

V. Qualitative results
1. Ability to achieve a change
2. Belonging to a group of likely-minded people
3. Pro- environmental consumer behaviour
4. Altruistic values

VI. Conclusion and Discussion

As climate change is a prominent challenge in today’s world, a global awareness towards achieving individual environmental change is necessary. This social research looks into how participating in climate strikes can lead to adopting a pro-environmental consumer behaviour (PECB). The quantitative analysis measured 105 questionnaires, while the qualitative part analysed 12 interviews with students studying in the Netherlands, France, Belgium, Germany, and Luxembourg. Changes in PECB were discovered by looking at the mechanisms endogenous factors, exogenous factors, and altruistic values which emerge during climate protests. The analysis established a positive relationship between the feeling of belonging to a group of likely-minded people and PECB. Furthermore, an overall positive change in PECB before and after participating in the climate protest. However, the quantitative results for the relationship in the belief in achieving a change and PECB were inconclusive. For the qualitative findings, the concept of gaining altruistic values was under-represented. The concepts of achieving a change and belonging to a group of likely-minded people were highlighted by all interviewees. Concludingly, the participation in strikes only slightly increases PECB, as other factors of the person’s individual life also affect a change of behaviour.

Key words: Climate protest, pro-environmental consumer behaviour, political participation, social movements, globalisation.

I. Introduction

Climate change is one of the biggest challenges the world faces in the 21st century (O’Brien & Leichenko, 2000). Taking place in a rapidly changing world, continuous processes of globalisation are altering vulnerabilities to climate change (O’Brien & Leichenko, 2000). The phenomenon is defined as global warming, whereby temperatures around the globe increase (NASA, 2019). Since the late 19th century, the Earth’s surface temperature rose by 0.9C°, especially in the past 35 years (NASA, 2019). Moreover, rainfall patterns change, and natural hazards increase, putting many communities at risk. For this study, the widely accepted opinion that climate change is happening and negatively impacting the Earth is taken for granted.

Globalisation increases global connectedness, trade, capital, and people’s flow, and recently, has affected the earth's’ ecosystem (Pleyers, 2005). Human-caused changes in the global environment include the degradation of land, soil fertility, biodiversity and rising greenhouse emissions (Pleyers, 2005). In 1998, the economist Rodrik questioned the idea of a globalised world and pointed out events that challenge people to accept the implications of globalisation. In the past 20 years, one of his points became reality: the alter-globalisation movement, considered to be a social movement against economic globalisation (Pleyers, 2005). Especially, the younger population started to join climate justice movements such as Friday’s For Future (FFF) protests initiated by 16-year-old Greta Thunberg (Haynes, 2019). She became an important figure for many students worldwide. On the 15th of March 2019, about 1.6 million students protested for the FFF in over 120 countries (Haynes, 2019).

These strikes, also called global climate strikes, are social movements occurring every Friday in countries around the globe. Social movements can be defined by a network of interactions existing among different individuals who are engaged in a certain political or cultural conflict, bound together by an underlying shared identity (Diani, 1992). In this case, the willingness to pressure governments to take measures for the climate. Thereof, social protests are considered as political participation (Van Deth, 2014). By striking, students voice their opinions on a matter threatening their future lives: environmental change (Verba, Schlozman, and Brady, 1995). Furthermore, as they cannot interfere directly in the political field due to lack of expertise, credibility, and inexperience, strikes support youngsters to become advocates for their rights. For the purpose of this research, students currently living in Belgium, France, Luxembourg, Germany or the Netherlands are investigated. These countries were identified as organising a lot of global climate strikes (Crouch, 2018). Moreover, we, the researchers of this paper, live in the countries mentioned before, easing the process of finding participants.

As stated previously, students participate in global climate strikes to fulfil their political involvement (Verba, Schlozman, and Brady, 1995). Moreover, other reasons, including students’ own personal values or group pressure are to acknowledge (Verba, Schlozman & Brady, 1995; Klandermans, 1997). Therefore, participating in these protests can lead to different effects. The one this research is particularly interested in is encompassed by the concept of pro-environmental consumer behaviour (PECB), defined as the willingness to sacrifice for the environment on a personal level (Bamber and Moeser, 2007), for instance, by reducing single-use plastic or limiting travels by plane. It shows that people are not only conscious about environmental degradation but are willing to take measures altering their lifestyles, to live a less environmentally costly life (Bamber & Moeser, 2007; Oreg & Katz-Gerro, 2006).

Therefore, the research question of our study is the following: To what extent have students of higher education in France, Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands, who participated at least once in a global climate strike, changed towards a more pro-environmental consumer behaviour? To ease the process, two sub-questions are also formulated: How does participation in a protest cause a change of consciousness? How is a change of consciousness translated into more pro-environmental consumer behaviour?

The goal of the research is to highlight the power of social action. Giugni (2008) and Fendrich & Tarleau (1973) demonstrate the political effects of social movements and that politically motivated protests result in continuous political involvement afterwards. Moreover, and importantly for the focus of this research, social movements imply personal consequences and can lead to a change of values (Stern, Dietz, Abel, Guagnano and Kalof, 1999).

The scientific relevance of this study lies in the fact that global student climate strikes are a relatively new topic, as the FFF movement started in August 2018 (Haynes, 2019). In fact, climate strikes have existed for a long time and have always included students. However, recently with the FFF movement and a greater media representation, the attention has been put on it. Hence, more should be studied on the actual change of behaviour it entails. This phenomenon is going to be focused on from a Western European perspective to see whether students are influenced by these protests sufficiently enough to make an actual change in their lifestyles. Further, the societal relevance of this study lies in the fact that students are the politicians and scientists of tomorrow and can bring about change in the future. Hence, studying their behaviour is a step-in predicting tomorrow’s future of our planet. This study will also rise the possible environmental hypocrisy which is the gap between being consciously aware of global warming and actually moving towards a PECB (Jordan, Mazar & Sachdeva, 2015). Moreover, the results of this research are of value because they help to comprehend how the overall increase of participation in climate protests can positively affect consumer behaviour and therefore influence climatic action. Investigating how people can be motivated to live more environmentally conscious is important to positively change current climatic developments.

In this paper, participating in climate protests and moving towards a pro-environmental consumer behaviour is examined. The theoretical framework is composed of two main parts; the first one looks into the theories of participation in global climate strikes and political participation; the second part focuses on theories on PECB. Then both quantitative and qualitative research were conducted, and our findings were analysed. Finally, an answer to our research question is given, followed by a reflection on the limitation of the study, and recommendations for future investigations.

II. Theoretical Framework

1. Participation in global climate strikes: Political participation

a. The concept political participation: Requirements

The UN defines political participation as the ability to take part in the conduct of public affairs (UN, 2019). The researcher van Deth (2014) created a conceptual map that explains political participation. The inserted scheme (see figure 1) is used to show that climate strikes are a form of political participation.

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Figure 1: Dimensions of political participation (van Deth, 2014)

To justify this, Van Deth (2014) suggests that the following dimensions need to be covered: Firstly, for something to be considered political participation it should be an action, which participation in a global climate strike can be translated to. Secondly, participation in a climate strike is voluntary as the students are not forced to join the strikes. The third dimension is validated, as this research study the the participation of students, which we agree are non-professionals. Fourthly, Van Deth (2014) puts attention on the location of the activity. Climate strikes are not directly located in the sphere of governments or politics. Therefore, our research will not focus on forms of “Political Participation- I”, which include casting votes or signing petitions. The fifth dimension points at the target of the activity. It is assumed that most students participating in global climate strikes want to actively address change which is why they take part in the protest in the first place. Therefore, “Political participation- II” would explain the attention behind the climate protest (Van Deth, 2014). However, it is assumed that some people participate in a protest to call for societal action. Van Deth (2014) also focuses on the aim of the activity. Students are not motivated to participate in climate protest to solve the community problem “Climate change”. This is described as “Political Participation- III” and can be connected to the participants’ change of lifestyle after the protest. The motivation in participating in a climate strike can, therefore, be described as a call for societal change rather than political change and will be treated as such during this research (Van Deth, 2014).

b. The effect of social movements

The sociologist Giugni studied the effects of social movements (2008), which can be defined as organised actions to fight for a societal goal (Giugni, 2008; Della Porta & Diani, 2008). The conclusion of this study is that changes can be achieved on a political, personal, and cultural level (Giugni, 2008). However, for our study, only the personal consequences play a role, as the effects on students are of importance, who are likely to be influenced by the climate protest.

Firstly, political consequences have shown that politically motivated protests result in continuous political involvement (Giugni, 2008; Fendrich & Tarleau, 1973). Secondly, Giugni looks at the cultural consequences of movements (2008). He recalls a study by Earl (2004) who detected that movements can have an impact on the public’s beliefs, on the media coverage, and the overall view on the world. Thirdly, personal consequences can be established during the participation of a protest as the influences of the movement are often reciprocated in the personal lives of those participating (Giugni, 2008). For instance, during the climate strike, students could get inspired by the speeches of activists and start recycling their rubbish.

2. Theories on Pro-environmental consumer behaviour

a. Conceptualisation: PECB

Pro-environmental consumer behaviour can be defined as the willingness to sacrifice for the environment and is defined by four different components (Bamber & Moeser, 2007; Oreg & Katz-Gerro, 2006): energy conservation, recycling, travel mode choice, and pro-environmental buying. The concept is often discussed in the context of a sustainable lifestyle and will be used as a basis for our research. Sustainability is defined by the Westminster Centre of Sustainable Development as: “patterns of action and consumption used by people to affiliate and differentiate themselves from others, which: meet basic needs, provide a better quality of life, minimise the use of natural resources and emissions of waste and pollutants over the lifecycle, and do not jeopardise the needs of future generations”(Backhaus, Breukers, Mont, Paukovic & Mourik, 2012, p 24-25). It focuses on human activities and their behaviours on everything they do, use and buy. In a radical way, a sustainable person does not harm the environment to ensure a good quality of life for future generations (Robinson, 1993). The different components of PECB build the starting point for our quantitative and qualitative analysis.

b. Value- belief- norm theory: Altruistic values

The theory by Giugini, Stern, Dietz, Abel, Guagnano, and Kalof (1999) states the importance of values, beliefs, personal norms, and obligations to become pro-environmentally. This theory is utilised as people all embody different values. In fact, it is important to consider what values motivates students to go on climate strikes. In the context of PECB, the values such as egoistic, traditional and altruistic values are connected:

Firstly, egoistic people think about the financial benefits of being sustainable. Although, an egoistic value might lead people not to act pro-environmentally since personal needs receive more attention than environmentally inspired needs (Stern et. al, 1999). For this reason, egoistic values do not build a significant mechanism for our research (Stern et. al, 1999). Secondly, traditional values are connected to a sense of obligation people have through family or social loyalty, for instance, wanting to defend own values (Schwartz 1977; Stern et. al, 1999). We acknowledge that traditional values can lead to PECB, as some people might have feelings of obligations to act sustainably imposed on them by for instance their parents. Nevertheless, the topic of traditional values does not create a main pillar as the research mainly focuses on altruistic values.

Stern et al. mention Schwartz theory on moral norm activation which is related to people's altruistic values (1977). His theory claims that pro-environmental change by individuals is connected to personal moral norms. These make people see a threat in environmental conditions to all species and that personal actions influence these conditions (Schwartz 1977; Stern et. al, 1999). Therefore, altruistic values are a mechanism that could lead to PECB.

c. Multi- level factor model: Endogenous and exogenous factors

The multilevel theory links the willingness to adopt PECB with endogenous, exogenous and structural factors (Jordan, Mazar & Sachdeva, 2015). This theory can be linked to the value-form theory, which highlights people’s values and how they can affect people's decision to become more sustainable. For endogenous factors, the theory states that different beliefs, attitudes, and values can cause pro-environmental beliefs. However, it also suggests that there can be a value-action gap, which means that some people have an environmental concern but are not willing to make a change in behaviour (Jordan, Mazar & Sachdeva, 2015). In fact, 52% of a change is usually caused by a person’s personal moral (Bamberg & Möser, 2006). Indeed, in our study, it is expected that some students go to climate strikes without planning on changing their behaviour immediately but might undergo a more progressive change. Moreover, Dhar and Simonson, (1999) established the Goal theory, which explains that people with a certain goal in life, are more willing to achieve it. Based on this theory our first hypothesis is established:


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Students for Future. The Effects of Participating in a Global Climate Strike on Students' Pro-Environmental Consumer Behaviour
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students, consumer, pro-environmental, strike, climate, global, participating, effects, future, behaviour
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Johanna Melsheimer (Author), 2019, Students for Future. The Effects of Participating in a Global Climate Strike on Students' Pro-Environmental Consumer Behaviour, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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