Is Tweeting Against Climate Change Accomplishing Anything?

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Published on October 23rd, 2009  |  Discuss This Article  

cimateprotest_blog

“Dad, what did you do way back when to help solve climate change?”

“Well son, I tweeted my face off about it. I really did. I included some bit.ly links to petition sites, I updated my Facebook status almost every day and I even posted a video comment on YouTube. In short, I did everything I could to make sure you had a safe and healthy climate for your future.”

Is this really what it’s come down to? Tomorrow is Climate Action Daybut has taking direct action been reduced to 140 characters or less?

Don’t get me wrong: I am a huge proponent of the power of online social media to connect people and causes instantly and at scale. I’m such a believer in these tools, that I’ve spent the last six months leading a team to launch the Conservancy’s Planet Change microsite. Planet Change is built on the idea of giving online activists an opportunity to do something quickly online to help spread the word about the importance of addressing climate change. We built the site in this way because frankly, we knew it would work. There is little barrier of entry when it comes to participating and taking action.

Once we’ve collected these online actions, we’ll take them to Copenhagen as a demonstration that the world is committed to climate change action.

But despite my strong belief in online social media, I can’t seem to suppress this nagging feeling that when compared to previous generations, the Internet is just making us too damn lazy when it comes to social activism.

Our parents marched on Washington for civil rights and an end to the Vietnam War. We’re posting status updates and embedding widgets. Is this really effective? Of course it isn’t – not on its own.

But online social media combined with get-off-the-couch-pick-up-the-phone-and-go-outside physical activism can be exponentially more powerful than the mass protests of the 60s – especially when combined with the voracious appetite of the 24-hour news cycle.

Two cases-in-point (that don’t involve the Obama campaign, which is the ultimate case-in-point):

First, there was the battle over the American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES), which narrowly passed the House of Representatives in late June.

On the day of the vote, opponents of the bill leveraged online social media – in particular Twitter – to execute a coordinated attack on its passage, rallying the opposition to call their representatives’ offices expressing their displeasure with the legislation. At the same time, supporters of the bill were tweeting in large numbers in support of the bill…but forgot the crucial step of organizing off-line action.

If Twitter was your only barometer, it would be easy to think the bill enjoyed broad public support. But because the minority organized a crucial offline component, they nearly scuttled the legislation.

Second is tomorrow’s Climate Action Day. Its organizers claim it is the biggest environmental action that the world has ever seen. The event so far has 4,200 events planned in 170 countries in support of global action on climate change.

I’ll say this much: The groups involved have done a masterful job of organizing this effort online and using online social networking tools to promote the day.  And the online tools are designed expressly to drive offline action — everything from posting signs in support of the day to creating mas visual protests with people forming statements in public squares.

The online tools aren’t the end — they’re a means to an end. To complete a virtuous circle, participants are encouraged to post pictures and videos of their actions online, adding another chorus to the echo chamber.

If you’ve read this far, you might now be asking, “Haven’t you just successfully argued against the merits of your own project — Planet Change?” Well, yes and no.

Our partners and supporters know the Conservancy as an organization focused on tangible lasting results on the ground and in the water. We aren’t know as an advocacy group — and frankly, we’re not well-versed in grassroots efforts.

But we do care deeply about protecting the results we have achieved. Left unchecked, climate change will make the places we have worked to protect unrecognizable. So we are compelled to address this threat — and one of the ways to address it is by building public support for action, and for global and national climate policies that support our mission. Planet Change is one of our tools in that effort.

So here’s to taking action today, whether it’s online, offline or something else.

Image courtesy of a Creative Commons License: http://www.flickr.com/photos/takver/ / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
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Comments: Is Tweeting Against Climate Change Accomplishing Anything?

  •  Comment from Christian Johnsen

    Working on a project right now which asks “What’s worth saving in #thisplace?” on twitter the answers will be published in a book and put in the hands of delegates @COP15. The thought is that twitter can be used to simplify a complex issue like climate change, give a voice to the millions of people around the world and then delivered to the ones calling the shots.

    I guess what we hope will happen is create a spirit of empathy, realising that the local people of every nation have something which they hold dear.

    So, yes… I do believe that twittering can make a change.

  •  Comment from Andrew

    Twitter and social media in general are a great way to mobilise millions of people behind a single cause, like climate change, or Trafigura.

    On a similar note, it’s a great information provider.

    However, I can’t help thinking that the influence of Twitter as a powerful political tool is being diluted somewhat, simply by the fact that there are currently so many issues being driven by Twitter at the minute – #weloveNHS, Trafigura, the Jan Moir article.

    It’s got to the point where people are already asking ‘what does hundreds of thousands of people tweeting on a topic actually mean?’ What difference does it make?

    Twitter is a phenomenal facilitator – people can mobilise and communicate more quickly than ever before, but this can only a compliment to other actions, not a replacement.

  •  Comment from Judy Williams

    ACTIONS SPEAK LOUDER THAN WORDS! I am fed up with Al Gore and his “greenies” telling the rest of us how we should live our lives to save the planet. To me, their cause is all about POWER AND CONTROL.
    Perhaps when you all begin to personally live as you want the rest of us to live, the world will take notice. Ed Bagley Jr makes a more profound statement with his life style than any of those spewing forth hot air on the subject.

    For over 125 years our family’s policy was to be good stewards of whatever part of this country was entrusted to our care. Whether it be a small plot beside the stoop of a brownstone or a large dairy farm. These were the values of our ancestors in Europe…values brought to American shores. WASTE NOT WANT NOT has been the family motto…it’s good stewardship.

    So tell me, why is it now necessary to destroy the fertile, oxygen & food producing farmland in california to save a small “minnow” that has survived the irrigation pumps for so many decades? Is there no other way to save the species?

    Justify the destruction of rare prairies and the habitat provided for many of Nature’s creatures so that a relatively few human homes can get wind power energy.

    Can you people justify the destruction of desert habit that’s important to the world’s oxygen supply for the sake of acre upon acre of solar panels?

    The list goes on and on and on…The “save the earth” community is filled the narrow minded who are either incapable of seeing the broad picture or they have no regard for anything but their own little cause.

    If you want to have an impact using Twitter or Facebook…try sharing those things you are personally doing to make the world a better place. I’d like to see just one new parent Twitter that he/she is NOT using disposable diapers…think of the savings not just in the landfills, but to a person’s wallet.

    It’s time to share ideas…not preach or demand things be done “your” way. Besides, what makes “you” think that you know what’s best?

    Proper use of Twitter will have a positive impact…sharing ideas that and individual can do on his/her own to make a difference.

  •  Comment from hapa

    truth? we don’t feel it. the red states have been dealing with job decay and bad government and their own nightmares for decades. greens and blues have plans, have concerns, but we don’t suspect the government wants to burn our church and choke our income.

    so even if we have night sweats about limits to growth those are future worries, not current fights to keep the lights on or fight the devil or the commies or whatever.

    personally i think ‘we’ should stop chasing the legislative ambulance and meet up to talk about bigger plans like http://tr.im/readplanb or wider programs like mike moore’s ‘mad as hell and it’s about damn time’ program, http://www.michaelmoore.com/words/mikes-letter/michael-moores-action-plan-15-things-every-american-can-do-right-now .

    as mike moore said a couple weeks ago, what’s stopping us from getting together how we did during the campaign? if it’s the agenda, there are plenty around, and there’s plenty to do.

  •  Comment from Jacqueline

    Is Twittering taking action? To my mind, yes. Would it be better if the streets of our cities were packed with people demanding our leaders listen, absolutely! I think the best action would be to do both, send a tweet or an email or both & then go out & participate in a march or some other form of activism. To more you do, the better.

    When I heard of 350, I thought I must do something. However, because I am very limited due to chronic illness, I had to think of something which I could do. Sick people almost always are unable to participate in these type of activities; I myself have not been able to attend any protests in my city for around 20 years. People doing shift work, those who are Carers or have family responsibilities often find it hard to participate as well.

    New to Twitter, I realised it could be a wonderful tool to getting a 350 message straight into the Prime Ministers mail box, so I registered with 350.org to run 350 Twitter Hour.

    I thought it would be popular activity being so easy to participate in & it also did not prevent involvement in another 350 activity which was important to me as I didn’t want to be in competition with others. The details were on 350.org’s activity list, on my own blog & I sent hundreds of emails to environmental organisations around the country. Most of the few who replied said they were participating in 350 too, but did not say they would do Twitter Hour as well.

    I sent a reminder a couple of days before to all those who had signed up. Then on the 24th October, I sent the Prime Minister my tweet & waited. A few tweets arrived in his box & I mean a few. Then it stopped. The Twitter page kept saying things like “another 20 Tweets have arrived since you logged on, refresh?” & when I did, no tweets were added to the Prime Ministers Twitter page or only one tweet was added. All up 33 people participated. What to say? Was it a stinker of an action? I don’t know. It was good enough for the UK and USA to run a 350 Twitter Hour as well. Was it because I am no-one special? Would it have worked if a high profile celebrity or a big organisation ran it? I think so.

    Do I think Twitter can cause social change? Definitely. I have had a Twitter account for about 4 months now & through it I have become a walking, talking expert on climate change. I am going to run 350 Twitter Hour again next year & I hope this idea spreads to many other countries. I definitely believe that if the Leaders received thousands of tweets all saying the same thing, they would listen & listen is what we need them to do.

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