Political Mobilization

A regime shift toward green technologies will require public support and adoption. However, despite widespread belief across countries that climate change exists and needs to be addressed, citizens have rarely prioritized the issue. This means that pro-climate policies have struggled to garner sufficient political salience to overcome powerful incumbent interest groups. Nonetheless, the existence of a “silent” pro-climate majority creates the possibility of a SIP, provided that political entrepreneurs can activate it.

 

Actor(s)

Voters/citizens/laypeople, activists, politicians/political entrepreneurs

 

Impulse (trigger)

Social scientists have long studied the power of small groups of influencers in, for example, political revolutions. A few “radicals” can spark a revolution simply by demonstrating to the majority that their beliefs are more commonly held than they had thought. The power of influencers has also been demonstrated in laboratory settings, where a committed minority with unwavering opinions can have an outsized effect on others whose opinions are less firm. Theoretical models show that the committed minority fails to grow if it is less than a critical threshold of the total population, but above the threshold it grows rapidly and becomes prevalent.

 

Criticality

If a latent majority supports ambitious climate action, and if the size of the committed minority is close to a critical threshold, then a small kick to raise the issue's political salience may have an outsized effect. Indeed, we observe an increasing number of political entrepreneurs attempting exactly this strategy. Student activists like Greta Thunberg who are driving a wave of school strikes around the world are finding new discourses to change the political salience of the issue. Similarly, proponents of the Green New Deal in the United States are attempting to harness the quiet pro-climate majority to generate a broader coalition formed around a wider social agenda. Will these movements have any impact? How might we determine if the current distribution of political beliefs is close to a critical point?

 

Feedback Dynamics

Striking exhibits increasing returns: The costs of striking fall, and the benefits rise, as more students coordinate on the same behavior, as does the potential for political change. There are several key other questions. Does the net benefit of political action rise as others take action? Does the intervention kick the system into a different basin of attraction?

 

Timescale and scaleability

«Timescale and scaleability»

 

Resistance

Political movements often spawn backlash both from the powerful incumbents that they are challenging, but also cultural mass-movements which form in opposition to the activist position, even if they are not aware of their service of powerful incumbents.

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