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date: 14 July 2020

Summary and Keywords

Political participation on the issue of climate change can encompass many different forms of individual and collective actions designed to affect governmental policies. At the most basic level, issue-specific political participation occurs when individuals directly attempt to influence governmental actors or policies on climate change—most notably by voting, but also through donating money and communicating with public officials. These types of participation tend to be relatively rare, limited to a small subset of deeply committed individuals. In contrast, personal action on climate change is more widely dispersed, especially if one includes impact-oriented actions (e.g., actions that influence the environment but are primarily undertaken for other reasons, like convenience or saving money) rather than purely intention-based actions, which occur when individuals adopt behaviors with the goal of addressing climate change. Additionally, opportunities to engage in expressive participation, largely online, create new spaces for individuals to build networks to engage in political action, as well as potentially to reach unengaged groups that are less likely to seek out information on the issue.

A number of forces can contribute to whether an individual chooses to participate on the issue of climate change. Individual characteristics, like perceptions of impersonal and personal risks associated with climate change, knowledge of the issues, and environmental values all tend to produce people more likely to participate—especially when these attitudes become part of an individual’s identity as an opinion leader or activist. As a global issue, social norms play a particularly powerful role; when individuals believe others support and are likely to take action themselves, it tends to foster a sense of efficacy that such behaviors will be effective in producing change. Individual choices about media sources also intersect with media coverage and framing of the issue to influence perceptions of the issue and likelihood of taking action. Such media framing can exacerbate or mitigate the heightened political polarization on the issue of climate change that has erected barriers to effective political action in many democratic societies in recent years, most notably in the United States. New forms of political participation may create opportunities to encourage more participation on the issue of climate change, but they also raise ethical questions about inequality and participatory divides that privilege some groups over others.

Keywords: climate change, activism, political participation, voting, political identity, persuasion, government

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