For my final project I wanted to look into how social media can be used to save our planet. Although it is one of the most pressing issues of our time, many people are still skeptical of climate change and refuse to take action. Activists all over the world work tirelessly to remove this air of skepticism and raise awareness on the very real consequences of climate change and what will happen to our planet if we do not act NOW. There is an endless number of organizations that are working to combat climate change and make a difference. These organizations utilize a multitude of strategies in order to get people listening, but one of the most successful tools in our day and age is SOCIAL MEDIA!
The power of social media is infinite, and environmental organizations have recognized and harnessed this power for the greater good. The prevalence and use of social media is rising worldwide. While social media can not be the only tool used to entice social change, it can be used as a tool to keep people informed and help them inform others. The viral nature of social networks allow people to learn about campaigns to save the planet, and they naturally want to be a part of it so they spread the message. In this way, social media can be used as a foundation of education that can influence our actions and the steps we take to save the planet.
Every organization uses social media in its own way, so I decided to profile 4 different campaigns in order to showcase how climate communication, public awareness, and engagement are all tied together.
COP21, the 21st Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, is running from November 30th, 2015-December 11th, 2015 in Paris, France. The objective of the conference is “to achieve a legally binding and universal agreement on climate, from all the nations of the world, to be signed in 2015, and implemented by 2020”. The key result is “to limit the global warming to below 2 degrees Celsius by 2100, as compared to before the industrial era”. In tandem with COP21, Vogue magazine created Climate Warriors, a campaign designed to raise awareness on climate change featuring 13 prominent women in the field.
The picture above is the homepage for the Climate Warriors campaign. You can see that it has minimal writing and uses powerful black and white portraits of the 13 women paving the way for climate change awareness. Rather than writing a traditional article on the subject, Vogue decided to make a photo story. When you scroll down on the page, it brings you to the profiles of the 13 women. Each profile includes a quote, image, and short blurb detailing the woman’s background and activism.
As you can see, below each blurb are buttons to share the blurb with your followers on Facebook and Pinterest. The tool of sharing is one of the most utilized when spreading the word about climate change. All it takes is getting one person to click on your link to educate. It also gives you the option of sharing the entire story through Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, and email.
The campaign is also active on other social networks, like Facebook and Instagram. Although the campaign doesn’t have its own page separate from Vogue, it still is active on these platforms.
Facebook is a great tool for this campaign because it allows people to comment on, like, and share the post with their friends. This spreads the word even farther. Similarly, the campaign was featured on Vogue‘s main Instagram page.
In each Instagram post, Vogue uses hashtags to link people to more content. The two most popular hashtags right now for this movement are #COP21 and #climatechange. While they may seem simple, these hashtags are a great way to group together all the posts on the topic. The hashtags lead you to thousands of other posts on climate change and can inform the casual reader quickly.
#2: CAMERON RUSSELL, CELEBRITY ACTIVIST
Climate Warriors is led by activist/model Cameron Russell, who is an advocate for climate change justice herself. With 25.5K followers on Twitter and 45.8K followers on Instagram, Cameron has the power to reach a large audience and spread the word/raise awareness.
Cameron is in attendance at COP21 and has been live tweeting the conference. She uses a combination of methods to intrigue her audience-from posting photos, live video, and retweeting other celebrities. Cameron Russell is a great ambassador because she can utilize her fame and famous friends to start a conversation on climate change. By getting Sara Sampaio, fellow model, to tweet about COP21, Cameron reaches a new audience. Sampaio has over 400K followers, so the message reaches more and more people.
Cameron Russell used the same hashtags that Vogue magazine did in her tweets and Instagram posts. She takes it a step farther by posting about challenges people can partake in. This is a very important aspect of climate change communication because challenges force people to actually do something.
As Nicholas Jansen will explain later in our interview, there is a rising trend in cyber-activism, or “clicktivism”. Caryl M. Stern, President and CEO of the U.S. Fund for UNICEF, explains in her article for Huffington Post that clicktivism is problematic because “getting involved in a charity through, say, Facebook or Twitter merely creates an impression of support. Social media makes it all too easy to appear engaged in important issues without taking any real action, that all the “likes,” shares and retweets about this issue or that crisis simply do not yield results that count.” By having people participate in challenges, Cameron Russell is urging people to do more than just like and share a post about climate change.
Another example of celebrities using their cultural status to start conversation about climate change is found in Arnold Schwarzenegger’s open letter on Facebook. In the letter titled “I don’t give a **** if we agree about climate change”, Schwarzenegger poses three questions for his readers.
His third and final question is very thought provoking and hits close to home. Arnold writes,
“I have a final question, and it will take some imagination.
There are two doors. Behind Door Number One is a completely sealed room, with a regular, gasoline-fueled car. Behind Door Number Two is an identical, completely sealed room, with an electric car. Both engines are running full blast.
I want you to pick a door to open, and enter the room and shut the door behind you. You have to stay in the room you choose for one hour. You cannot turn off the engine. You do not get a gas mask.
I’m guessing you chose the Door Number Two, with the electric car, right? Door number one is a fatal choice – who would ever want to breathe those fumes?
This is the choice the world is making right now.
To use one of the four-letter words all of you commenters love, I don’t give a damn if you believe in climate change. I couldn’t care less if you’re concerned about temperatures rising or melting glaciers. It doesn’t matter to me which of us is right about the science.
I just hope that you’ll join me in opening Door Number Two, to a smarter, cleaner, healthier, more profitable energy future.”
Schwarzenegger pleads with his audience to stop being skeptical of climate change and accept it as our reality . As of December 8th, the post has over 100K likes (including Mark Zuckerberg),70K shares, and 4,000 comments.
#3: RAISING AWARENESS ON COLLEGE CAMPUSES
For my interview portion of the project, I met with Nickolass Jansen, a senior here at the University of Michigan majoring in Program in the Environment (PitE). He has been passionate about the environment for years and is now the head of the Divest to Invest Campaign at UofM as well as in charge of organizing the Michigan Climate March that is taking place on December 12th. We had a conversation about how students on college campuses utilize social media to raise awareness about climate change.
Recap of my Nicholas Jansen Interview:
#4: APPLICATIONS CAN RAISE AWARENESS TOO!
#climate is an application available in the App Store that harnesses social media for social good. The application gathers the most impactful climate change actions from leading non-profits, informs you about actions that match your personal climate interests, and allows you to activate your followers on your climate actions.
Upon downloading it, #climate asks you to sign in with your Twitter or Facebook. It asks you what topics you are interested in, what regions you care about, and gives you a list of organizations to receive alerts from. The homepage of the app features a “Recommended For You” page where it connects you to different actions you can take that are tailored to your interests.Below are examples of actions that were recommended to me on my account. One of them is a Facebook challenge where you change your profile picture to support climate change awareness, much like people adding the French flag to their picture to support the shootings a few weeks ago. The second is a brief overview of COP21, a field guide to the Paris climate talks.
#climate is one example of how smartphone technologies can be utilized to combat climate change. Applications like this one not only educate the user, but also allow the user to educate others through sharing. One of the biggest challenges in combating climate change is making people take action. #climate entices people to share the material with others and spread the word rather than just raising awareness.