How Online Campaigns Can Spark Action on Environmental Issues
By Lauren Meling, digital strategist and DC EcoWomen member
2019: it’s the start of a new year and anything is possible! Let this fresh start motivate you to push for more climate action this year. It’s no time to give up, since your voice is needed more than ever. But where to begin?
Look no further: the device you’re using right now can be the starting point for fresh activism in the new year. Online actions can be a crucial part of sparking action on environmental issues. Sometimes they get a bad rap — hence the “clicktivism” pejorative — but the truth is, digital and social media can reach more people at a faster rate than traditional media, educating them and inspiring further action. Don’t believe me? Here are 7 ways digital campaigns helped spur on real change.
1. LEGO: Everything is NOT Awesome
Everything is awesome? Not when you’re a kids’ company partnering with Big Oil. Greenpeace’s emotional video took Lego to task for its $116 million partnership with Shell, a company drilling in the Arctic — devastating the climate for the kids who play with its toys. After just three months and a million people showing their support, Lego ended the partnership. Meanwhile, Shell has halted its Arctic drilling exploration.
2. Clean Power Plan
You can #ActOnClimate today by telling Scott Pruitt’s EPA that you stand with the Clean Power Plan! (Link in story.) . . . #ProtectCPP #CleanPower #CleanPowerPlan #Pruitt #Trump #EPA #ClimateAction #KeepItInTheGround #Renewable
A post shared by Climate Reality (@climatereality) on Nov 19, 2017 at 4:34pm PST
Did you know the EPA received 1.6 million public comments about the Clean Power Plan — a landmark regulation that placed limits on the amount of carbon pollution emitted by power plants? As part of the federal rulemaking process, the public can submit comments to communicate their support for or reasons against a proposed regulation. Democracy! And in this modern age, you can do it online through regulations.gov.
Nonprofits and organizations across the country banded together to encourage as many Americans as possible to share their support for cleaner power and reducing carbon pollution from power plants.Today, the fate of the Clean Power Plan is in limbo, and the current administration is working on new rulemaking to replace it. If and when that happens, you’ll likely have a chance to get active online and demand stronger carbon pollution regulations. Follow the experts at Union of Concerned Scientists or Environmental Defense Fund to stay updated.
3. Paris Agreement
Climate change isn't just an “environmental” problem. Add your name to #DemandClimateAction https://t.co/vgqRRFYo2G pic.twitter.com/DEWDAa0bpA — NRDC ? (@NRDC) November 28, 2015
The Paris Agreement — a worldwide commitment signed by 193 countries who promised to decrease carbon emissions in order to prevent climate catastrophe — is the biggest step the world has taken to address climate change. And while the US president says he wants to exit, the fact is he can’t — at least not until November 4, 2020.
So how did this global milestone happen? In short, the pressure had been building for years, with time running short on addressing climate change to keep global temperatures under 1.5* Celcius. By 2015, even the Pope got on board with his Laudato si encyclical. Environmental organizations worldwide combined forces to campaign for a strong agreement using online and social media. Together they delivered 6.2 million petition signatures at the United Nations for the start of COP21.
4. Standing Rock
Solidarity. More Than 1 Million 'Check In' On Facebook To Support The #StandingRock Sioux https://t.co/yomPMGk7Ya #NoDAPL #WaterIsLife pic.twitter.com/UKVB5wswCK — Mike Hudema (@MikeHudema) November 2, 2016
When did you first hear about Standing Rock? Chances are, you first read about it through social media. Do you remember when everyone was ‘checking in’ on Facebook at Standing Rock and changing their status to “I stand with Standing Rock”? In 2016, a million people checked in to show their opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline (#NoDAPL) in response to a viral post claiming that police were using Facebook to surveill and target protesters on site. Whether that was the case or not, one thing is sure – it certainly called an exponential amount of attention and support to the issue. This battle may have been lost, but the war wages on.
5. Flint, MI
(Dope Sean, dope.) RT @VibeMagazine: .@BigSean launches #HealFlintKids #FlintWaterCrisis: https://t.co/b0XUDZ1i6K pic.twitter.com/PqP3XiuHcn — Talib Kweli Greene (@TalibKweli) January 21, 2016
When the mainstream media outlets weren’t taking notice, social media was lighting up with posts about the #FlintWaterCrisis. The problem in Flint still isn’t solved, but thanks to the spotlight shone on the problem first in social media, more organizations, nonprofits, and even celebrities stepped up to help, mobilizing funds and providing immediate assistance for those in need, likely saving lives in the process.
A post shared by Surfrider Foundation (@surfrider) on Aug 14, 2017 at 12:48pm PDT
More recently, one single item has earned the ire of social media gadflies everywhere: the plastic straw, making it the ‘biggest trend of 2018.’ Today, cities, states, and corporations are enacting or considering limits to plastic straws. But where did this momentum come from? In short, it can be traced back to one unfortunate sea turtle. After the video went viral, the Surfrider picked up the #StopSucking banner this year to campaign against straws. Soon after, celebrities and influencers showed their support on social media.
Reducing the unnecessary use of plastic straws is one relatively easy step in the right direction. But it’s only a starting point. Now if only people would also curtail their use of single use plastic cups and bottles too!
What can you do?
Another tip: Tag a few of your friends or followers to make sure they get notified when you share an action online. You can also do the same thing by joining a Facebook group focused on your favorite topics, or starting a group chat with a few of your friends who care about the same issue – for example, water issues or reducing single-use plastic. (Just make sure you’re not sending out every message to every one of your friends — no one like a spammer!)
Lauren Meling has dedicated her career to finding what exactly it takes to make people take action online to serve a cause. She uses her digital strategy experience and skillset combining email marketing, social media, search engine marketing, website optimization, and content creation to engage online communities in meaningful action to confront some of the most challenging crises humanity faces today. She may not be a superhero, but she plays one on the internet.