“Twenty-five years ago, people could be excused for not knowing much, or doing much about climate change. Today we have no excuse” -Desmond Tutu
Research shows that six in ten Americans receive their news from social media (Gladston, I., & Wing, T. 2019). Social media is a fast and effective way to inform its users of the status of the climate change crisis; With such an abundance of articles and information on social media platforms regarding our planet’s health, it has a way of drawing people in and allowing them to conceive their own opinions in regards to climate change. Whether climate change is real or a government conspiracy, is a massive topic that is constantly debated throughout social platforms. With the main focus from some of the older generations being that they had no issues like this back in their day, not realizing that the crisis has been brewing for many years, and is just now emerging from being dormant. Facts are shared and climate change evidence is being photographed and shared across the globe in efforts to inform the world of how serious this is. Another reason some people do not want to acknowledge that Climate change is real is because they don’t feel comfortable with changing their way of life. Besides the possibility of fake news being shared throughout social media, these platforms have proven to aid people in the effort to save the planet, by informing, spreading facts, and intensifying passion for the cause, and will prove to be a useful tool against global warming.
The discussion of climate change has been prevalent in the last couple of years, with many different viewpoints on how to tackle this issue; Conservation of our planet is a vital part of maintaining a viable environment for humans, animals and plants alike. In this fight against climate change, a big contributing factor in spreading awareness and aid has been through social media. Social media is a widespread database that connects the entire world, it is a huge platform with plenty of information and opinions; Even though this does come with many factors to be a dangerous tool, if utilized properly, social media can be a helpful tool in the fight against climate change. Many people in former generations see social media as a burden, cutting off people from the ‘real world’, however, many people who use social media have increased knowledge of world events through social media platforms. Social media is faster and more efficient in regards to acquiring the most information about climate change in the least amount of time. Focusing on the younger generation, who happen to have been born into the age where posting and sharing things on the internet is the easiest and fastest way to communicate with the world on how they’re feeling, what they’re doing and what interests them; With more access to information and more potential to make a change to the current decline of our planet, social media gives people the power to make the fight against climate change go viral.
Social media has become one of the most accessible sources of information in regards to climate change; Through social media, people can easily access and see what kind of changes and actions are being made in order to save the planet. In 2015, an agreement on climate was adopted between the Parties of UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change), at the Paris Climate Conference. The Paris Agreement was created to bring awareness to the UN of the urgency to cut back on CO2 emissions in order to avoid a global warming crisis, this agreement is meant to take place from 2020 onward. This agreement took force on November 4th, 2016; ratified in 153 countries out of 197 parties. According to a report made following the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, the UN climate experts warn everyone that we must limit global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels; In order to limit these emissions, experts suggest, “Human-caused emissions of CO2 will need to fall by around 45% from 2010 levels by 2030, reaching net zero around 2050” (“The Chemical Engineer”, 2018, p. 8), this was covered in an article discussing climate change. These experts are pushing to reduce these emissions faster through means that produce less emissions, rather than using technology that removes CO2 from the atmosphere. The main concern is about eradicating the use of industrialized fossil fuels and replacing them with eco-friendly and sustainable energy, such as solar energy and wind energy; “Making the transition will require policies that put a high price on emissions, that increase investments in low-emission infrastructure and scrap regimes that subsidise fossil fuel use.” (“UN Climate Experts”, 2018, p. 9) These eco-friendly alternatives have seen a popularity increase in the last decade, with social media on its side to share to the world the benefits and the necessity of these sustainable resources. The parties involved in this agreement agreed to keep their efforts in lowering emissions open to the public, in order to ensure that each party is doing their part in addressing this crisis. With this kind of open policy, social media has taken an even bigger foothold in this globally addressed topic; This current generation is exposed to so much of the information regarding climate change all over the world, and has taken up arms by sharing articles and other information through means of social media. With this kind of publicity, Global warming has become a hot topic in today’s society, whether people believe it or not, its safe to say that they will see and hear about it at least once a day.
Social media platforms can highlight what is most popular on their platforms by basing them off of hashtags, the easiest and fastest way to make something that’s trending, go viral. This popularity on social media has taken precedence in trending hashtags such as #Savetheturtles and #Vegan. These are two topics that have become popularized all over social media, the first being a movement against plastic use after a video circulated across the social media platforms of a man rescuing a sea turtle by pulling a plastic straw out of its nose. This video sparked outrage across the world, and brought to people’s attention the detrimental effects that single use plastic has on wildlife. This movement has taken its role in being one of the most influential, creating new movements in order to save the oceans. Just from one single video, hundreds of other videos and articles were then popularized in order to fit with social media users interests. For example, when you’ve been watching videos on a specific subject and ‘like’ it, social media will then suggest other videos or articles based off of the content of the video you liked; In other words, “other videos you may be interested in”. This kind of algorithm exists within these platforms to allow the world to become exposed to an abundance of information and opinion pieces in order for people to create their own opinions; on climate change for example. The other trending hashtag of veganism, may have initially started with a controversial organization known as PETA, but the fad diet has now taken its own popularity by being endorsed by famous actors and social media influencers; sharing their stories on why and when they became vegan. Veganism is used as a source of climate change solutions for its affects against greenhouse gas emissions created by the livestock industry; a commonly known source of deforestation and CO2 emissions. Whether this diet is popularized for its health reasons or its effect on animals, it no doubt makes an impact on global warming. With the algorithm based off of the popularity of a hashtag, this is one of the most influential ways to spread the awareness of climate change through social media.
With the help of those trending hashtags, we must also look at the influencers behind them; With an increase in social media ‘fame’ it is now a goal to see who can become the most popular on social media platforms. One very influential person on social media in regards to climate change is Greta Thunberg. Greta Thunberg, a swedish 16 year old girl, has become a very popular influencer in climate change after her speech at the UN. This student activist started a strike ‘school strike for climate’, in 2018 the strike gained social media attention and took off, one single child in sweden inspired thousands of other kids all over the world to participate in the same strike. After that, Greta was invited to speak at all sorts of events, one in particular really tipped the scales, her speech at the UN climate action summit, where Greta was asked about the message she had for world leaders. Greta addressed the world and made it clear that young people are seeing the world leaders lack of urgency on the issue of climate change; “We are in the beginning of a mass extinction and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!” (Staff, N. P. R. 2019) This speech went viral on social media, with all kinds of response from the world, the video was even discussed over many different news channels. Former president Barack Obama referred to her as “one of our planet’s greatest advocates” (Obama, B. 2019). Greta was even mentioned in a tweet by the current president of the United States, Donald Trump, “She seems like a very happy young girl looking forward to a bright and wonderful future, so nice to see!” (Trump, D. J. 2019) although this message was perceived from the world to be a sarcastic remark, Greta took this quote and made it her bio on Twitter, showing the world that Greta would not be affected by these remarks. Another strong role model on social media is a man named Max La Manna, who is an environmental activist, popular on Instagram; Max is an influencer for living a ‘no-waste’ lifestyle, where he even had a book published called “More Plants Less Waste”, where he gives tips and guides on how to live a healthy and clean life that contributes to helping the planet. Without the help of his social media fame, Max would not have made as big of an impact on the world as he is now; With almost 1 million followers on his Instagram, that’s a lot of people who idealize and follow in his beliefs, or at least find them interesting enough to follow. With this kind of fan-base, it’s easy to spread your opinions and ideals so that other people will follow them as well.
Combining strong role models on social media and these trending viewpoints, the fight against climate change has taken face with single use plastic, and has increased the popularity of useful products that are also eco friendly. One product that has become very popular amongst this generation is the use of reusable straws in comparison to the single use plastic straws. In the past 20 years, plastic straws have become an increasing contributor to plastic pollution, because they are currently a non-recyclable single use, luxury item; and often end up in a dump. People are taking action against this epidemic by banning single use straws from restaurants and bars around the world; For example, Vancouver has completely banned straws, and Taiwan is banning single use plastic in general by 2030. Another popular eco-friendly product that has taken precedence in the world of social media is reusable shopping bags, in substitution of single-use plastic bags that are provided by most stores. Plastic bags are a significant source of marine plastic pollution, these bags take many years to break down, but the amount of bags used and discarded is growing faster than the bags are degrading. With the bags similar look to jellyfish when they are in the water, they have also become a detrimental factor in wildlife, where animals are consuming the plastic and dying. Plastic has been a reported problem since the 1970’s, with little studies on how to tackle the issue. Interventions have been made to help reduce single use plastic bags by bans, fees and taxes on companies who use plastic bags. Other than these bans, reusable bags are the newest trend in reducing plastic pollution, with the assistance of social media influencers popularizing the use of these bags.
Along with these changes to marine life, climate change also has a disastrous impact on our lands with natural disasters taking a rise these last few years. Social media has become a useful tool in preparing and aiding communities for natural disasters through communication; In an article from the International Journal of Industrial Engineering, data was collected from multiple social platforms to show the contribution in tracking these events happening across the world, this article illustrates that, “detecting and monitoring all the details of a disaster is helpful for relevant authority officers to make the correct responses in a timely manner and reduce loss resulting from disaster events” (Tsai, Hsieh, Teng, Hou, Freg & Tsao, 2018). Therefore, social media can assist in spreading information and keeping officials up to date on the status of a natural disaster. Although social media can cause the potential for misinformation or rumors to be spread, the benefits that social media creates in these disasters drastically outweighs the potential misdirection. Social media aids in authority officials responding quickly and efficiently, while reducing the amount of loss in the operation. Social media has an advantage here, as it is a world-wide accessible platform that provides an array of information to local happenings around the world; With these high speed data streams, local responders are able to tap into these social media platforms and use them to assist in where to go first and what is needed in the community. One example are the fires in California, this information can be accessed around the world in a blink of an eye. It does not take very long for natural disasters to become trending topics on social media, to the point where they are the first videos, pictures, articles and etc. that you see when you log on to your profile. With all of this proof showing that social media is a good and helpful thing, it is sometimes hard to see why it is not popular with everybody. Social media has a nasty reputation of spreading hate and mistrust between people; Building on the one emotion we all can be controlled by: fear. By latching onto these twisted views, people are able to manipulate others into believing what they are saying because multiple people have shared their thoughts. Although this split second of seeing a post that’s fake news, and then sharing it, doesn’t last a long time, it will always remain in the back of people’s minds. For example, when a person sees a bad article about a restaurant that they frequent, they will subconsciously remember to avoid that restaurant after reading that bad article. Using this knowledge, its safe to say that social media makes the spread of fake news even easier than it did when people just ‘heard it through the grapevine’. This sort of manipulation is used in reference to global warming by people sharing articles that ‘prove’ their theory of climate change being a hoax; No matter how many articles of scientific proof are shared, how many photos of polar bears that are emaciated because the ice is melting, no matter how much proof of climate change there is, people will always have a post, or article that states that its a hoax. The rise in climate change caused disasters, has utilized social media to save lives and spread awareness through its algorithm allowing popular world changes to be highlighted and spread across the world.
In summary, Climate change is a very real enemy, and we must act quickly to ensure the health of our planet; Social media is a useful tool that should be utilized to its fullest extent in assisting in bettering the world, in events where our world’s future is at stake.
- Yue-Fu Tsai, Jih-Liang Hsieh, Wei-Guang Teng, Ting-Wei Hou, Chih-Pin Freg, & Yu-Chung Tsao. (2018). Discovering Disaster Events from Social Media Streams. International Journal of Industrial Engineering, 25(5), 685–701
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