A new paper published in Environmental Science and Policy outlines a review of existing research into environmental action across diverse issues, tactics and locations. Though we are seeing an upsurge of environmental action worldwide, reports indicate that the state of the environment is continuing to decline. Does this mean that environmental action by non-government organisations is unsuccessful? A deeper understanding of the characteristics of successful action is urgently required to inform new and continuing movements and give them the greatest chance for success. 

A systematic review of the outcomes of sustained environmental collective action, by Robyn Gulliver, CASPR Director Cassandra Star, Kelly Fielding and Winnifred Louis critically examined 113 papers evaluating three key areas: 

  1. What are the geographic, temporal and methodological characteristics of research examining the outcomes of environmental collective action?; 
  2. What environmental issues, entities, tactics and outcomes does this research identify?; and 
  3. What are the gaps in the available evidence? 

The diverse, specific issues covered in the 113 papers were coded into 11 broad categories, the most common being described as ‘environmental’ and also including issues such as ‘flora’, ‘climate change’ and ‘water’.  

All the studies described normative actions taken as part of the campaigns, including acts such as distributing flyers and engaging with media, whilst 36 studies also detailed non-violent, non-normative actions such as blockades and disruption. Eight studies reported acts of violence, either against the collective actors, perpetrated by them, or both. 

A third of the papers reviewed considered that the environmental collective action being studied had achieved success, with the highest rate of success being seen in actions focussed on issues related to flora. There were very few papers investigating failed actions. 

The authors go on to make four key recommendations based on learnings from the systematic review exercise. There are: 

  1. The need to build a consistent dictionary of environmental collective action; 
  2. The importance of consistent mapping of outcomes against goals in reporting on environmental collective action; 
  3. Broaden studies beyond WEIRD (Western, Educated, Industrial, Rich and Democratic) contexts; and 
  4. The need to test and integrate theoretical frameworks. 

This systematic review provides key learnings and relevant insights into diverse environmental collective actions. Importantly, it has the potential to strengthen research on environmental collective action, inform future collective actions and increase the likelihood of successfully achieving action goals, protecting the environment for generations to come.  

 For a copy of this article, please email caspr@flinders.edu.au.