Engaging with the threat of the climate crisis
: The emotional journey and life stories of older adult climate activists.

  • Samantha Dixon-Hart

Student thesis: PsychD


Background The climate crisis poses an existential threat to all living beings; this knowledge can evoke painful emotions. It is thought that due to the pain of these emotions, many avoid thinking about this threat. However, some people, including climate activists, continue to expose themselves to it. There is currently very little research exploring the emotional experiences of climate activists and how engaging with the threat of the climate crisis impacts them; what is known explores the experiences of youth activists. There is even less known about is the experiences of older adult climate activists.

Method One-to-one, semi-structured qualitative interviews following the Biographical Narrative Interview Method (BNIM) were completed with eight climate activists aged 65 and over. Narrative analysis was then completed by taking an experience-centred approach. Individual stories were analysed before convergent themes were identified.

Results Six stories were identified in the data. The research found that the activist identity often had beginnings in social justice concerns and highlighted the ongoing pressure and responsibility that activists feel to enact change. This research demonstrated the importance of the activist community in providing support in the face of societal denial. It supported previous research demonstrating the anger evoked by political inaction and found that this contributed to feelings of hopelessness about the future. This research found that older climate activists experience anger, fear, powerlessness, and hopelessness through their awareness of and involvement in activism related to the climate crisis.

Conclusions These findings support the growing research highlighting the climate crisis's negative impact on emotional wellbeing and present novel findings regarding the impact of age on these experiences.
Date of Award12 Dec 2023
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Roehampton
SupervisorJohn Rae (Director of Studies) & Monique Proudlove (Co-Supervisor)


  • Climate crisis
  • climate distress
  • ecoanxiety
  • older adults
  • climate activists
  • emotions
  • narrative analysis
  • climate emergency

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