Original Research - Special Collection: New Landscapes in Identity

Young people – citizens in times of climate change? A childist approach to human responsibility

Karin Sporre
HTS Teologiese Studies / Theological Studies | Vol 77, No 3 | a6783 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/hts.v77i3.6783 | © 2021 Karin Sporre | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 27 April 2021 | Published: 22 September 2021

About the author(s)

Karin Sporre, Department of Applied Educational Science, Faculty of Social Sciences, Umeå University, Umeå, Sweden; Department of Religion and Theology, Faculty of Arts, University of the Western Cape, Cape Town, South Africa


The matters of climate change are presently of concern existentially and ethically to the children and the youth. Worldwide school strikes in 2018–2019 and the Fridays for Future movement demonstrate how the young citizens assume socio-political responsibility. However, what possibilities do children and young people actually have to influence global discourse? Are adequate thought structures in place for them to be taken seriously in matters of concern to them? Given that children and youth engage with the issues of climate change, with a concern for their own future and that of our planet, the aim of this article was to take a child-centred ethical perspective and to theoretically explore conditions for intentional inclusion of children and their ethical concerns. In such a critical exploration, aspects of identity politics and intersectionality are reviewed. Empirical results from an interview study with children aged between 10 to 12 years are presented demonstrating that climate changes are of existential and ethical importance to them. Thereafter, a ‘childist’ perspective is introduced and discussed. The interviews were carried out during 2019 in eight schools in South Africa and Sweden. The children were individually interviewed with a method allowing for open responses. The schools in both countries were located in areas where a lack of water had been experienced. In this article, a theoretical framework is developed based on the ethical recognition of a commonly shared human responsibility and using the concept of ‘empowered inclusion’. It recognises children in their own right and identifies vulnerability and interdependence as being foundational to human existence.

Contribution: In present times, as the concern for their own future, that of future generations and that of the planet is becoming an integral part of the identities of children and youth, both existentially and ethically, this article brings to this special issue a discussion of conditions for a child-centred view on human responsibility.


citizenship of youth; identity politics; intersectionality; childism; human responsibility; climate change; Greta Thunberg


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Crossref Citations

1. Taking the moral authorship of children and youth seriously in times of the Anthropocene
Karin Sporre, Heila Lotz-Sisitka, Christina Osbeck
Ethics and Education  vol: 17  issue: 1  first page: 101  year: 2022  
doi: 10.1080/17449642.2021.2024991