The Emotional Spectrum Fueling Environmental Activists

The emotional motivations underlying climate activism are complex and multifaceted, according to psychological research. 

A study conducted in Norway has suggested that anger might be a more potent driver of climate activism than hope. The study involved surveying 2,000 individuals about their feelings regarding the climate crisis and their motivations for taking action. 

The findings revealed that there was a correlation between increased levels of anger and a greater likelihood of participating in climate protests, with the link between activism and anger being seven times stronger than that of hope.

However, understanding the relationship between emotions and activism is not straightforward. The study focused on intentions rather than actual actions taken. Previous research on this topic has yielded mixed results, indicating that emotions like fear and hope can play varied roles in motivating activism.

Is It Possible to Predict Emotions that Drive Action?

Young people, in particular, often experience anxiety and apprehension about the planet’s future due to climate change

Studies have shown that fear can heighten the impact of information, prompting reactions, but without clear directions for action, individuals might avoid such information altogether. 

Some research also indicates that fostering hope can drive engagement with climate issues, particularly when that hope is channeled into actionable steps rather than complacency.

Ultimately, understanding how emotions like anger, hope, and anxiety translate into productive action remains a complex challenge for psychologists and researchers alike. The intricate interplay between emotions and activism requires nuanced examination to effectively guide and empower climate-related initiatives.

What Motivates Activists, According to Them

Linda Aspey, a climate psychologist who directly engages with activists, highlights love as a powerful emotional catalyst for climate action. 

According to Aspey, love and solidarity are profound drivers that awaken individuals to the urgency of addressing climate change. This love extends beyond personal or familial interests; it encompasses a deep connection to the global community, particularly those in the Global South most impacted by climate change, as well as a profound bond with nature itself.

Research supports the idea that having a relationship with the natural world can amplify the likelihood of taking action. Individuals with a strong link to nature are more inclined to engage in activism, as this connection nurtures a heightened sense of responsibility.

Aspey emphasizes the intricate tapestry of motivations behind climate activism. She notes a diverse array of emotions, including grief, anger, and hope, that influence individuals’ engagement with the cause. 

The reasons people become activists are multifaceted and deeply personal, varying based on factors such as age and life experiences.

However, Aspey cautions against the inclination to label emotions related to climate change, such as eco-anxiety, as pathological. She encourages a more nuanced understanding, as the scale and complexity of the climate crisis have introduced emotions and motivations that go beyond conventional categorizations. 

Aspey’s perspective underscores the intricate interplay between emotions, motivations, and the unprecedented challenges posed by climate change.

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