A taxonomy of civil resistance

1. Introduction

Climate activism is often based on loosely defined concepts such as “Non-Violent Direct Action” (NVDA), “civil disobedience”, “strikes”, “protests”, and other forms, which may be used with different meanings by different groups, and, therefore, lack conceptual clarity. In the following I try to systematize forms of (climate) activism for system change to provide more conceptual clarity to identify underused or unused forms of climate activism and to generally improve the cost-effectiveness ratio of climate activism. In addition, reflecting the core dimensions of an action will also help to understand the “action logic“, which will give activists greater determination while performing the action. These reflections are also relevant in a wider context of activism to achieve system change.

2. Taxonomy

I propose the following core dimensions to classify climate activism:

  1.  Current system
    1. liberal: The system allows and promotes liberal rights, ie civil rights, to freely express citizen opinion and uses moderate legal actions against illegal actions, because it recognizes the high value of civil rights to create or maintain justice and innovate society. Example: Scandinavian countries
    2. anti-liberal: The system prohibits or systematically suppresses the expression of citizen opinion which is critical to the current system and takes aggressive legal or illegal action against actions which do not follow social norms or current laws. Example: Russia, China
  2. Conformity
    Note: In moral terms, laws or law enforcement actions, which violate the interests of future generations, are not democratic and, therefore, lack a moral basis (see comment here [¹]).

    1. legal/conformist: Activists follow existing laws and norms. Examples: approved protests, petitions, lobbyism, information campaigns, marketing, non-violence
    2. illegal/non-conformist: Activists violate existing laws and norms. Examples: illegal protests or direct actions, shock protests, eg die-ins, nude protests
  3. Pathway
    1. indirect: Activists put pressure on decision-makers, eg political or business leaders or individual consumers, to perform the demanded changes in lieu o the activists. Example: Demands for government action
    2. direct: Activists decrease or stop unwanted processes or events, eg coal mining, air travel. Example: Flying drones at airports, blocking coal mines
  4. Activity level

    1. passive: Activists decrease the level of activity which supports the current system. Example: Boycott of production and consumption.
    2. active: Activist increases the level of activity which supports the target system. Example: tree planting, sustainable or subsistence farming, biking, installation of solar panels
  5. Directionality
    1. defensive : Activists block actions initiated by the current system. Example: blockade of deforestation by coal mining (cf “Hambacher Forst”)
    2. offensive: Activists initiate action to de-install the current system and install the target system. Example: destruction of fossil fuel infrastructure
  6. Medium
    1. theoretical/intellectual: Activists sharing information. Example: Personal conversations, flyers, websites
      Note: Logical fallacies (propaganda methods) may be used here such as stating opinion as facts, strawman arguments (argumentum ad absurdum), shooting the messenger (argumentum ad hominem) and others.

      1. targeting objects: Activists promote facts and values of their target system, and vice versa.
        1. facts
        2. values
      2. targeting subjects: The activists attack the social status of an opponent.
    2. practical/physical: Activism physically changing the reality. Example: street protests, road blocks
      1. targeting objects
      2. targeting subjects
  7. Public Relations
    1.  activist and audience

      1. ignorant: Activists perform their actions without taking public reactions into account or assessing them as irrelevant.
      2. confrontational: Activists send provocative messages and perform confrontational actions, eg to widen the Overton-Window. Example: Messages which are unpopular, eg promoting birth control in high-income countries
      3. targeted: Activists target their actions at a subgroup, which has similar values. Example: Extinction Rebellion telling the truth using confrontational language and symbols, eg mass extinction, animal skulls, to activate and recruit like-minded “upstanders”, who are willing to take action in the face of an emergency.
      4. populist: Activists target the majority of the population. Example: Promoting low-commitment, low-impact, feel-good strategies, eg switch-off your car while waiting at traffic lights, re-use plastic bags, handing out chocolate.
    2. activist and object
      Note: The audience may have different values from the activist, and reverse psychology may cause that a message as unintended effects.
      Example: “President Trump is a rich, sexist idiot who is lying to gain personal advantage.” may be perceived as positive by republican voters (“My kind of guy!”). 

      1. positive: Activist uses positive attributes for the object (eg person, organisation or product). Example: good vegan diet and climate activist audience
      2. negative: Activist uses negative attributes for the object (eg person, organisation or product). Example: bad oil companies and climate activist audience
      3. neutral: Activist uses neutral attributes for the object (eg person, organisation or product). Example: the yellow moon and climate activist audience
  8. Anonymity:
    Note: Activists use a false identity to promote their message. Example: Oil companies creating false grass roots movements (“astroturfing”, “false flag”), use “independent” think thanks, or other types of re-branding.

    1. true identity: Activists present their identity and identifiable features (face, name, ….). Example: Extinction Rebellion (not Red Rebels), Fridays For Future Protests
    2. no  identity: Activists hide their identity and identifiable features,. Example: Extinction Rebellion’s “Red Rebels”, “Black Block”, eg using uniforms, masks, large masses, code names.
  9. Quantity:
    1. individual: Activists act as individuals. Example: initial solo protests by Greta Thunberg, Rebellion of One
    2. mass: Activists act in large groups. Example:  Global Climate Strikes, Ende Gelände Actions, International Rebellion Week by Extinction Rebellion

3. Carbon-tage

At the current stage of climate emergency and current forms of climate activism failing to achieve the required system change, I propose to assess current forms of climate activism and preferably apply forms which lower the costs for the activists and increase the effectiveness in terms of limiting or decreasing the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. As explained elsewhere [2], passive resistance including sabotage (“eco-tage”/ “carbon-tage”), which has historically been applied in fascists systems like German nationalsocialism, may increase the chances of system change in comparison to current methods. The neologism “Carbontage” describes here all forms of sabotage, which decrease carbon (or greenhouse gases, in general) emissions by reducing production or consumption in a fossil-fuel based, unsustainable economic system.

Sabotage (“Carbon-tage”) can be classified  (depending on the local system, here Sweden):

Core features:

  1. liberal
  2. illegal/non-conformist
  3. direct

Additional features:

  1. passive or active
  2. defensive or aggressive
  3. theoretical or physical
  4. ignorant, confrontational, targeted, or populist
  5. non-identifiable or identifiable
  6. individual or mass

4. Examples of civil resistance from Gene Sharp’s list

See categories and examples of actions of civil resistance from the famous list of actions of civil resistance by NVDA theorist Gene sharp [WEB], which is cited here for convenience:


Practitioners of nonviolent struggle have an entire arsenal of “nonviolent weapons” at their disposal. Listed below are 198 of them, classified into three broad categories: nonviolent protest and persuasion, noncooperation (social, economic, and political), and nonviolent intervention. A description and historical examples of each can be found in volume two of The Politics of Nonviolent Action, by Gene Sharp.

Formal Statements
                    1. Public Speeches
                    2. Letters of opposition or support
                    3. Declarations by organizations and institutions
                    4. Signed public statements
                    5. Declarations of indictment and intention
                    6. Group or mass petitions

Communications with a Wider Audience
                    7. Slogans, caricatures, and symbols
                    8. Banners, posters, and displayed communications
                    9. Leaflets, pamphlets, and books
                    10. Newspapers and journals
                    11. Records, radio, and television
                    12. Skywriting and earthwriting

Group Representations
                    13. Deputations
                    14. Mock awards
                    15. Group lobbying
                    16. Picketing
                    17. Mock elections

Symbolic Public Acts
                    18. Displays of flags and symbolic colors
                    19. Wearing of symbols
                    20. Prayer and worship
                    21. Delivering symbolic objects
                    22. Protest disrobings
                    23. Destruction of own property
                    24. Symbolic lights
                    25. Displays of portraits
                    26. Paint as protest
                    27. New signs and names
                    28. Symbolic sounds
                    29. Symbolic reclamations
                    30. Rude gestures

Pressures on Individuals
                    31. “Haunting” officials
                    32. Taunting officials
                    33. Fraternization
                    34. Vigils

Drama and Music
                    35. Humorous skits and pranks
                    36. Performances of plays and music
                    37. Singing

                    38. Marches
                    39. Parades
                    40. Religious processions
                    41. Pilgrimages
                    42. Motorcades

Honoring the Dead
                    43. Political mourning
                    44. Mock funerals
                    45. Demonstrative funerals
                    46. Homage at burial places

Public Assemblies
                    47. Assemblies of protest or support
                    48. Protest meetings
                    49. Camouflaged meetings of protest
                    50. Teach-ins

Withdrawal and Renunciation
                    51. Walk-outs
                    52. Silence
                    53. Renouncing honors
                    54. Turning one’s back




Ostracism of Persons
                    55. Social boycott
                    56. Selective social boycott
                    57. Lysistratic nonaction
                    58. Excommunication
                    59. Interdict

Noncooperation with Social Events, Customs, and Institutions
                    60. Suspension of social and sports activities
                    61. Boycott of social affairs
                    62. Student strike
                    63. Social disobedience
                    64. Withdrawal from social institutions

Withdrawal from the Social System
                    65. Stay-at-home
                    66. Total personal noncooperation
                    67. “Flight” of workers
                    68. Sanctuary
                    69. Collective disappearance
                    70. Protest emigration (hijrat)



Actions by Consumers
                    71. Consumers’ boycott
                    72. Nonconsumption of boycotted goods
                    73. Policy of austerity
                    74. Rent withholding
                    75. Refusal to rent
                    76. National consumers’ boycott
                    77. International consumers’ boycott

Action by Workers and Producers
                    78. Workmen’s boycott
                    79. Producers’ boycott

Action by Middlemen
                    80. Suppliers’ and handlers’ boycott

Action by Owners and Management
                    81. Traders’ boycott
                    82. Refusal to let or sell property
                    83. Lockout
                    84. Refusal of industrial assistance
                    85. Merchants’ “general strike”

Action by Holders of Financial Resources
                    86. Withdrawal of bank deposits
                    87. Refusal to pay fees, dues, and assessments
                    88. Refusal to pay debts or interest
                    89. Severance of funds and credit
                    90. Revenue refusal
                    91. Refusal of a government’s money

Action by Governments
                    92. Domestic embargo
                    93. Blacklisting of traders
                    94. International sellers’ embargo
                    95. International buyers’ embargo
                    96. International trade embargo



Symbolic Strikes
                    97. Protest strike
                    98. Quickie walkout (lightning strike)

Agricultural Strikes
                    99. Peasant strike
                    100. Farm Workers’ strike

Strikes by Special Groups
                    101. Refusal of impressed labor
                    102. Prisoners’ strike
                    103. Craft strike
                    104. Professional strike

Ordinary Industrial Strikes
                    105. Establishment strike
                    106. Industry strike
                    107. Sympathetic strike

Restricted Strikes
                    108. Detailed strike
                    109. Bumper strike
                    110. Slowdown strike
                    111. Working-to-rule strike
                    112. Reporting “sick” (sick-in)
                    113. Strike by resignation
                    114. Limited strike
                    115. Selective strike

Multi-Industry Strikes

                    116. Generalized strike

                    117. General strike

Combination of Strikes and Economic Closures

                    118. Hartal

                    119. Economic shutdown



Rejection of Authority
                    120. Withholding or withdrawal of allegiance
                    121. Refusal of public support
                    122. Literature and speeches advocating resistance

Citizens’ Noncooperation with Government
                    123. Boycott of legislative bodies
                    124. Boycott of elections
                    125. Boycott of government employment and positions
                    126. Boycott of government depts., agencies, and other bodies
                    127. Withdrawal from government educational institutions
                    128. Boycott of government-supported organizations
                    129. Refusal of assistance to enforcement agents
                    130. Removal of own signs and placemarks
                    131. Refusal to accept appointed officials
                    132. Refusal to dissolve existing institutions

Citizens’ Alternatives to Obedience
                    133. Reluctant and slow compliance
                    134. Nonobedience in absence of direct supervision
                    135. Popular nonobedience
                    136. Disguised disobedience
                    137. Refusal of an assemblage or meeting to disperse
                    138. Sitdown
                    139. Noncooperation with conscription and deportation
                    140. Hiding, escape, and false identities
                    141. Civil disobedience of “illegitimate” laws

Action by Government Personnel
                    142. Selective refusal of assistance by government aides
                    143. Blocking of lines of command and information
                    144. Stalling and obstruction
                    145. General administrative noncooperation

                    146. Judicial noncooperation
                    147. Deliberate inefficiency and selective noncooperation by enforcement agents
                    148. Mutiny
Domestic Governmental Action
                    149. Quasi-legal evasions and delays
                    150. Noncooperation by constituent governmental units

International Governmental Action
                    151. Changes in diplomatic and other representations
                    152. Delay and cancellation of diplomatic events
                    153. Withholding of diplomatic recognition
                    154. Severance of diplomatic relations
                    155. Withdrawal from international organizations
                    156. Refusal of membership in international bodies
                    157. Expulsion from international organizations



Psychological Intervention
                    158. Self-exposure to the elements
                    159. The fast
                                        a) Fast of moral pressure
                                        b) Hunger strike
                                        c) Satyagrahic fast
                    160. Reverse trial
                    161. Nonviolent harassment

Physical Intervention
                    162. Sit-in
                    163. Stand-in
                    164. Ride-in
                    165. Wade-in
                    166. Mill-in
                    167. Pray-in
                    168. Nonviolent raids
                    169. Nonviolent air raids
                    170. Nonviolent invasion
                    171. Nonviolent interjection
                    172. Nonviolent obstruction
                    173. Nonviolent occupation

Social Intervention
                    174. Establishing new social patterns
                    175. Overloading of facilities
                    176. Stall-in
                    177. Speak-in
                    178. Guerrilla theater
                    179. Alternative social institutions
                    180. Alternative communication system

Economic Intervention
                    181. Reverse strike
                    182. Stay-in strike
                    183. Nonviolent land seizure
                    184. Defiance of blockades
                    185. Politically motivated counterfeiting
                    186. Preclusive purchasing
                    187. Seizure of assets
                    188. Dumping
                    189. Selective patronage
                    190. Alternative markets
                    191. Alternative transportation systems
                    192. Alternative economic institutions

Political Intervention
                    193. Overloading of administrative systems
                    194. Disclosing identities of secret agents
                    195. Seeking imprisonment
                    196. Civil disobedience of “neutral” laws
                    197. Work-on without collaboration
                    198. Dual sovereignty and parallel government


Without doubt, a large number of additional methods have already been used but have not been classified, and a multitude of additional methods will be invented in the future that have the characteristics of the three classes of methods: nonviolent protest and persuasion, noncooperation and nonviolent intervention.

It must be clearly understood that the greatest effectiveness is possible when individual methods to be used are selected to implement the previously adopted strategy. It is necessary to know what kind of pressures are to be used before one chooses the precise forms of action that will best apply those pressures.

Gene Sharp (1973). The Politics of Nonviolent Action (3 Vols.) Boston: Porter Sargent. https://www.aeinstein.org/nonviolentaction/198-methods-of-nonviolent-action/

5. References

[¹] Igl, W. (2019). “Political decisions violating the interests of future generations are not democratic”, http://biosphere.wilmarigl.de/en/?p=1534

[2] Igl, W (2019). “Mission 2020: An analysis of the current state of climate, climate politics and climate activism”, http://biosphere.wilmarigl.de/en/?p=1531

Added References:

Sovacool, B. K. (2022). Beyond science and policy: Typologizing and harnessing social movements for transformational social change. Energy Research & Social Science, 94, 102857. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.erss.2022.102857


The current text should not and cannot be used to infer that I am promoting illegal activities in a past, present or future system, whose jurisdiction applies to me.