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New Media and the Environmental Movement’s Grassroots Globalization

Global grassroots environmental activism finds a powerful ally in new mediaNew media is helping environmental activists to combat the powerful propaganda and immense resources of the old energy economy. Although environmental groups cannot outspend or outmaneuver entrenched economic interests, the adoption of new media levels the playing field and democratizes the debate.

New media encompasses the amalgamation of traditional media with the interactive power of computers, communications technology, computer-enabled consumer devices and most importantly, the Web. The interactive relationships inherent in new media democratize content and invite participation in what some are calling open source activism.

A key success factor of the environmental movement is the fact that although it is decentralized, activists rally around common themes. Some have called this broadcast organizing, using big email lists or large networks to share one message that is disseminated in a variety of different ways.

Over the last couple of years, the environmental movement has increasingly relied on new media. Despite the economic hardships brought about by the recession, we saw the meteoric rise of truly global environmental events last year, and this year eclipsed the extraordinary success of last year’s events.

In October, the power of grassroots environmental activism was on display. The Global Work Party and Blog Action Day harnessed the power of collective action by giving people a sense of co-creativity. These two events captured the attention of millions of people around the world and exemplified the scope of involvement.

On Sunday, October 10th, 2010, 350.org facilitated the largest environmental activism event in history. The 10/10/10 event, also known as the Global Work Party, demonstrated the growing popularity of global environmental activism with over 7000 events in 188 countries.

On Friday, October 15th, 2010, change.org’s Blog Action Day encouraged bloggers to raise awareness around the theme of Water. The White House and the UK Foreign Office joined thousands of people who blogged about the earth’s most precious resource.

The scope of these events is unprecedented. The annual Earth Hour campaign mobilized almost one billion people to turn off their lights for one hour and cast their vote for action on climate change.

The WWF has staged an event called What a Difference a Day Makes. Like the other campaigns cited above, the WWF event relied heavily on Twitter and other social media tools to disseminate its environmental message.

Each season, there are dozens of environmental events that bring people together to raise awareness and share solutions.

The new environmental movement unifies national leaders and local connections to create powerful alliances. Local organizers from across the nation are coming together and sharing tactics and strategies. Thanks to new media, these alliances are expanding as grassroots organizations coalesce.

The environmental movement is not just about mobilizing citizens, it is about influencing governments to get involved in the war against climate change. Although these efforts have yet to produce necessary climate legislation in the US, they are not going unnoticed. Bill McKibben and the 350.org team succeed in their bid to have the President install solar panels on the roof of the White House.

Environmental organizations are developing a wide variety of resources to communicate with mass audiences including information kits and videos.

Environmental groups are focusing the power of new media to out irresponsible and non-sustainable business practices. Greenpeace’s online organizers drew attention to Trader Joe’s and successfully forced the company to adopt more sustainable practices. More recently, Greenpeace succeeded in pressuring Nestle to announce a zero deforestation policy.

Greenpeace’s graphic video in the Nestle campaign was viewed 350,000 times the first day it was posted. Although Nestle made YouTube remove the ad, Greenpeace simply changed their tactics. They jammed the company’s phone lines with complaints and plastered its Facebook page with negative comments. This is evidence of the unstoppable efficacy of new media to promote environmental change. Losing one channel could not stop the tidal wave of pressure that eventually forced the company to capitulate.

Although pressuring irresponsible enterprises is effective, new media is also behind an initiative known as a carrotmob, this approach actively rewards companies for their environmental efforts. For decades environmentalists have organized boycotts and now carrots are being added to an arsenal that previously included mostly sticks. Where boycotts punish businesses, the carrotmob collectively rewards environmentally responsible businesses through patronage.

New media is helping environmental advocacy move towards the critical mass required to bring about meaningful change.

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Richard Matthews is a consultant, eco-entrepreneur, sustainable investor and writer. He is the owner of THE GREEN MARKET, one of the Web’s most comprehensive resources on the business of the environment. He is also the author of numerous articles on sustainable positioning, green investing, enviro-politics and eco-economics.


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