Photo: Mike Theiler/Reuters

The uptick of climate and science marches since the 2016 election has certainly made the environmental community feel more hopeful and less alone but have these demonstrations actually swayed public opinion? Penn State just released a study that proves that large-scale climate marches do in fact help convince the public, including conservatives, that collaborative action on climate change is possible and that the climate change movement is part of the mainstream.

Will future marches entice more people to join and/or take action?

The researchers found that after the People’s Climate March, study participants were more optimistic about people’s ability to work together to address climate change — referred to as collective efficacy beliefs. They also found that study participants had less negative opinions of marchers after the march.

Where you get your news matters how you view marchers: 

According to the research, participants who regularly consumed news from conservative media had more collective efficacy beliefs and intent to take action after the marches. Those who regularly got news from liberal media tended to have less negative impressions of marchers, particularly among those who reported having heard about the marches.

What march organizers think about the study:

Paul Getsos, National Director of the Peoples Climate Movement told Our Daily Planet in a quote that “It’s good to see a scientific study that helps to make the case that mass mobilizations have an impact – not just on decision-makers and the participants but those on the sidelines as well. What was particularly noteworthy to me was that the people in the study were moved both in that they felt more hopeful that climate action could be possible, and that they saw marchers as legitimate political voices. Since 2014, our goal has been to show a climate movement that was made up of people that represented all of our communities….We emphasize the importance of a broad coalition, of making sure that everyone with a stake in climate, jobs, and justice is at the table and part of the action.

Why This Matters: Not only do marches help to get people politically activated but the Penn State research suggests that they can even help engage unlikely stakeholders. This isn’t a totally new notion as historic evidence has shown that during the Civil Rights movement, those places that were home to peaceful demonstrations were less racist and more willing to support political measures to achieve equality. A large group of people taking action on an important issue is influential because it’s infectious, humans are motivated to act based on this social motivation. Perhaps inviting more unlikely allies to the next big march might be a way to grow the environmental movement even more and serve as a reminder that we’re truly all in this together.

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