I’m a little scared of asking this question, since some may misunderstand me. I do believe in climate change and the impact of human activities on it. And I do believe that protesting can actually change things.

But I’m genuinely curious about all these student protests around the globe happening lately: are they really effective? Is something going to change (like new policies) because of this?

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    Despite my comment on the answer, I tend to agree protests are less effective than meeting with politicians, sending letters, and making phone calls. Unfortunately, the most effective way to get attention is terrorism.
    – user2565
    Mar 16, 2019 at 13:41
  • This is probably too broad and speculative for this site. One could have asked back in November if anything was going to change as a result of yellow vest protests etc. Mar 17, 2019 at 22:58
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    Even if nothing else happens, raising awareness is still a valid reason to protest (not an incredibly strong one, but still). Mar 18, 2019 at 4:42
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    I suspect we'll only know the answer to this in 20-30 years.
    – 410 gone
    Mar 19, 2019 at 15:55
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    @tj1000 You don't need to speak to protect the environment. You can act. And in particular, refrain from acts that harms the environment.
    – Bregalad
    Mar 20, 2019 at 7:09

4 Answers 4


I was a local protest organiser for my city. The coordinated student strikes were one of the most powerful statements ever issued by young people in our area. The local city council passed multiple bills regarding climate change in response. In response to them my government had the first debate on climate change in over two years (although only a handful of government MPs showed up it is still something). What I found the most valuable however was the educational side of things, the protests radicalised thousands of young people in a good way, they suddenly started educating themselves more , acting in a more environmentally conscious way, pressuring the adults around them more etc. over time the build-up of these young people has a knock on effect of pressuring governments to do more. It brings climate change to the top of the pile of issues and restarts the discussion on what to do next.

I think the best comparison would be to early civil rights movements in the 20th century. It was never one single event that gave women the right to vote, or ethnic minorities equal rights, or equal pay. It was never one single protest that decriminalised homosexuality and brought about LGBTQ+ rights. It is simply the beginnings of a mass movement of people who want change, and hopefully eventually world governments will listen to that as they have often done in the past.

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    For comparison - in my city [~600k inhabitants] in Poland I saw maybe a dozen of protesters. Have seen much bigger NIMBY protests.
    – Shadow1024
    Mar 18, 2019 at 12:42

these student protests around the globe happening lately: are they really effective? Is something going to change (like new policies) because of this?

There are two effects of these types of protests

1) It raises the topic being protested about up the media agenda. In the UK, the climate change protests even managed to push Brexit off the top spot in the news. That is an incredible achievement

2) The people taking part will be changed. They will absorb the ideas of each other. This is how mass movements begin. A protest is a form of meeting with a public declaration "we are here and this is what we think"

The economy and the political systems we have at the moment are so at odds with the emerging ecological sustainability movement that they just don't engage. It's like trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. Perhaps this is always the case when there is a paradigm shift. The old systems have to be abandoned they cannot be reformed. As Greta Thunberg said

"You don’t listen to the science because you are only interested in solutions that will enable you to carry on like before. Like now. And those answers don’t exist any more. Because you did not act in time."

When I tried to ask a question about what methods (apart from protest) there might be for affecting change that environmental activists might use it was closed. This is symptomatic of the way that environmental concerns are ignored

The current system, both left and right is based on growth economics - which sustainability campaigners reject. Both left and right want the ecological problems to resolve themselves without any intervention. Both left and right see the natural world as "other" - a neutral playground to be used without consequence.

Given this background, it's difficult to see how engaging directly with the current structures is going to help much more than protesting


It probably depends on where you are. Thus the following will be US-specific: extrapolate with care.

No. It may have some practical utility for the participants, but fighting AGW isn't it.

N.B. it's not that climate change is wrong or unimportant. Protesting just isn't necessarily a good way to combat it. Better options: writing your congressperson, writing your representatives in your state legislature, signed petitions, campaigning for politicians likely to take concrete steps. All of these raise attention in a way that doesn't turn the concerned parties into a salable packaged product for the media.

The main reason protest is unlikely to be effective is because most of the "solutions" that fit on a piece of posterboard are going to be comically unworkable (e.g. "stop greenhouse gas emission now!"). More viable steps to help the problem are going to be relatively complicated and boring and long term (e.g. carbon credits, along with taxing trade to countries that pollute heavily). The pie-in-the-sky nature of these soundbite demands invites the opposition to dismiss one as clueless or ideologically-influenced or what-have-you.

  • It's like you are saying that ideas that are not popular should just give up, curl in a corner and die. It's a well known political and psychological trope that making unrealistic demands can shift positions further in the direction you wish to go
    – Vorsprung
    May 16, 2019 at 11:13
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    @Vorsprung yes, it can be important to shift the Overton window. But there's also a well-known political and psychological trope where the highly-visible feel-good protesting discharges the energy and reinforces the status quo. Your take on my point is completely wrong: I'm not saying to curl up and die I'm saying that protesting may feel good but is a distraction from the hard but impactful work of senator-writing, signature-collecting, and campaigning that actually moves the needle. Do you want the real thing, or the symbolic representation of the thing? May 16, 2019 at 16:28
  • All reification is forgetting :)
    – Vorsprung
    May 17, 2019 at 9:54

What is the point of protesting?

  • It feels good: "I'm doing good!"
  • Meeting people who feel the same: "Look, I'm not alone. We all are doing good!"
  • Attracting media attention: "Look, I'm on TV!"
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    And if enough people do it, it attracts the attention of policy makers.
    – BobT
    Mar 15, 2019 at 22:37
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    This answer, while correct, is incomplete. Media reporting of protests affects those are relatively undecided or neutral on the issue ("this issue must be important if so many people are protesting about it"). As @BobT notes, that sort of thing gets people concerned and contacting politicians who can make changes.
    – user2565
    Mar 16, 2019 at 13:38
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    And in the case of Climate Change, that poll has been held many times already, and the politicians have positioned themselves accordingly. So the current Climate Change protests won't change anything.
    – Sjoerd
    Mar 16, 2019 at 22:56
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    @Sjoerd Right, but I said "affects those are relatively undecided or neutral on the issue", meaning the people who aren't protesting (since we assume the protestors already hold a strong view). Those "undecided" people are the ones who can swing an election (not the protestors who aren't undecided).
    – user2565
    Mar 17, 2019 at 15:47
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    @Sjoerd : Instead of thinking that it will make some kind of "revolutionary" change, why not think about it more incrementally? It nudges things - just a bit [e.g. by drawing more attention, by perhaps giving some arguments more voice that weren't given such before]. It won't do it on its own - but the actual change comes about as a cumulative result of many actions (protests and otherwise), by many individuals and groups, pointed in the same direction, each one adding up, over time. Mar 18, 2019 at 9:44

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