Young people at a crossroads: Negotiations of environmental knowledges, practices and subjectivities in immigrant homes at a time of climate crisis

Lead Research Organisation: University of Manchester
Department Name: Social Sciences


As youth climate activism grows around the world, this project will generate unique understandings into how families composed of first and second generation immigrants from the Global South (GS) are responding to lived experiences of climate crisis in two ethnically diverse cities: Manchester and Melbourne.
As well as growing up at a historic crossroads in terms of political and societal responses to the climate crisis, second generation immigrants are at an additional crossroads in their family life, between sets of political and cultural values, economic possibilities and environmental characteristics that have roots in (at least) two countries. This pioneering project will be the first of its kind to conduct research with this often overlooked group of young people, generating insights from two cities, with young people from a range of ethnic backgrounds. The question at the heart of the project is how second generation immigrants - part of the most 'climate change-aware' generation alive today - discuss and negotiate responses to the climate crisis with parents who may have first-hand experience of living with resource and climate uncertainty, yet whose knowledge is often not valued in Global North (GN) contexts.
This area of research is both timely and important because at a time when deep-rooted adaptations are urgently needed in societies already feeling the effects of climate change, GS immigrants hold valuable knowledges that are often not known to or fully appreciated by the public and by policy makers in the GN contexts where they are living. Existing research with adult immigrants in the GN has found that immigrants show a higher disposition towards 'sustainable' practices such as reducing household waste, using water sparingly, and walking or cycling over driving. As cities seek to meet ambitious sustainability agendas and as city residents increasingly feel the effects of climate change, the knowledge and experience of GS immigrants can offer insights into how to respond to drought, extreme weather and other effects of climate change. The role of young people in carrying environmental education messages from schools to homes is well researched and documented (including by the PI). However, an important but largely unexplored area is how second generation immigrants respond to and make parents' knowledge of living with climate uncertainty known in schools, where such knowledge can enrich and diversify existing climate change education.
The project will employ an action research methodology that will support young people's participation by training them to carry out research in their homes and work with parents, peers, teachers and researchers. The action research will result in a toolkit documenting resources for diversifying education on climate change (among other outputs). This has the potential to benefit students, teachers, policy-makers and environmental NGOS, and in particular second generation immigrants and their families as the valuable knowledge they hold is recognised, debated and applied in Manchester, Melbourne and beyond.
Concurrently, the project will make important academic contributions to the fields of environmental politics, political geography and critical environmental education through publications in leading social scientific journals, the PI's first monograph and presentations at international conferences. These academic outputs will position the PI as a leading researcher who is uniquely positioned at the intersection of these fields. The research will furthermore strengthen international networks that the PI and mentors have begun to build through their existing research into environment, sustainability and migration. At a time when knowledge on how to respond to the 'wicked challenge' of climate change in diverse societies is more needed than ever, the research has significant potential to lead to further international collaborations to advance this important and unique area.

Planned Impact

This project responds to societal concerns about climate change which have been galvanised by youth-led climate activism. Among the impacts of youth-led climate activism is a demand among policy-makers, teachers and students for more educational resources on climate change (Pells, 2019). Concurrently, in the urban Global North (GN), there have been calls for the 'decolonisation' of climate change (Ibrahim, 2019) in recognition that education and policies concerned with climate change often do not represent the ethnic and cultural heritage of diverse city populations. At a time when governments are considering mandatory climate change education (with Italy the first country to legislate on this, see Orlandi 2019), this research will explore ways of diversifying climate change education through action research with children of immigrants, parents and teachers in Manchester and Melbourne.

The research has potential to benefit the following groups, beginning in - but not limited to - the two city and national contexts where data collection will take place:

1. Young people and their families: Adapting to climate change is increasingly recognised as a key skill for young people (Bradbury et al., 2019). International migration means that first-hand knowledge of immigrants of living with resource and climate uncertainty in Global South (GS) contexts has been 'exported' to GN contexts (Head et al., 2018). Greater opportunities for children of immigrants and their parents to contribute to climate change education in schools would mean that all young people would benefit from this practical knowledge, whilst immigrant families would benefit from being recognised as important contributors to inclusive climate change responses.
The research will train 30 young people as co-researchers to interview their parents and reflect on how parents' knowledge can be incorporated into classroom education and responsive action. Young people and parents will have opportunities to share their responses at inter-schools conferences.

2. Teachers: As national governments (including the UK) declare a state of 'climate emergency', teaching on climate change is likely to become more central to curricula. Teachers need better resources on teaching climate change in ways that reflect the diverse ethnic and cultural heritages of the students they teach.
The research will work with teachers, environmental education consultants and the UK Royal Geographical Society to develop a toolkit on diversifying climate change education. The project will also produce blogs for Sustainability and Environmental Education and Sustainability in Schools, websites used by teachers in the UK and Australia.

3. Environmental non-governmental organisations: Environmental organisations have an important role in campaigning on societal concerns about climate change, particularly concerns raised by youth. Such organisations can benefit from up-to-date knowledge on ethnically-diverse young people's environmental concerns.
This research will establish contact early on with environmental NGOs, including the Manchester Environmental Education Network, the Australian Youth Climate Board, Friends of the Earth and Young Friends of the Earth Europe. These stakeholders will be kept informed of project progress and invited to advise on key project findings.

4. Policy-makers: In many cities, local politicians and policy-makers are joining youth campaigners to call for greater action on climate change as it is they who are tasked with delivering meaningful climate change adaptation responses at the local scale.
The research will reach out to education and environment policy-makers in the two cities, keeping them informed of project outcomes, inviting them to inter-schools conferences and drawing them into dialogue with young people, teachers and other stakeholders. Activities with local policy-makers may provide an additional platform to work with national policy-makers.


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