ClimateCulture: Sustainable Living through Social Media

This is Part 6 of the Sustainable America series.

How many environmental organizations are fighting for climate justice at this point? I’ve lost track. Is it five hundred, five thousand? With how many overlapping objectives? That isn’t even counting all the student groups at all the universities across the country. The point is, there’s a lot of people doing a lot of good work out there on behalf of the planet, and this is inspiring news for anyone that cares about climate change, which is most Americans. All of these groups operate on the same front: the sustainability front. With so many Americans on board with climate action, there has never been a greater need for unity on the issue, and there’s an obvious solution waiting to be implemented. Fortunately, I know exactly what needs to be done, and the plan is already in motion.

Let’s start with the big picture: millennials have a destiny. By circumstance of our birth and our skills, millennials have a singular purpose in history, which is to solve the issue of climate change. Millennials are the climate generation if there ever was one. We care more about climate change than any other, and by a wide margin. I was born in 1992, the same year the UN met for the first time to talk about global warming. Think about the children, they said! Well, we were those children, and here we are, all grown up, and they’re still talking. Some people still feel the need to debate whether it’s even a problem or not. Please, millennials aren’t having this. You don’t have to convince us climate change is a problem; we’ve been living with that fact all our lives.

We have a lot invested in our future, because we’re still only just starting out. Yet despite our optimism for what lay ahead for us, there’s no denying we inherited a messy situation. Our parents knew it was a problem, but even they couldn’t stop it. We’ve got to do something, they kept saying. And that’s all they kept saying. But now that we kids are grown up, it’s time for us to get to work saving ourselves, and so we have.

Let’s also talk about this moment in American history: the first half of 2017 has seen an unprecedented wave of activist events and protests being held throughout the nation. The three highest-profile protests of the year so far have been the Women’s March, the March for Science, and the People’s Climate March, all of which were held globally and drew hundreds of thousands of people each. Americans are fired up and politically engaged, and from my personal experience at these marches, young people make up a big portion of the people in the streets. We’re out there and fighting, just like we should be. The parallels between now and the protests of the 1960s are hard to ignore. Just like the counterculture of that era, the effects of this current moment in history will ripple through time, transforming society in their wake.

Our activism doesn’t end at the protest line, however. We live in an activist age, and I see people sharing issues that matter to them on social media every single day. Students are passionate and organized. Rallies happen once a week. This is an exciting time, and people have things to say. We make signs, we give speeches, we participate in a movement. But right now, climate change seems to be lacking a unified digital space for people to speak their minds. I know how to change that in a way that will unite the movement like never before.

The problem with talking about climate change is in the way it’s being marketed to people. The media doesn’t know how to focus on anything but the tedious parts of the story. The seas are rising, the ice caps melting, the carbon emissions blah blah blah. We’ve heard it all before. It’s boring. If I have to watch another documentary about climate change, I think I’m gonna pass out. We’ve moved past that. It’s time for a more social approach.

Everyone my age has something to say about climate change, and thanks to social media, it’s easier than ever to share those thoughts. What we need is a single online space to share all of this content, whether it’s an activist event, a poetry reading, a painting, or simply a statement about how we feel. There are so many environmental groups out there doing incredible work, but they’re only broadcasting to their own little circles of support. Meanwhile, 70% of Americans care about climate change, some 200 million people. What if, instead of each organization having 3,000 followers on Facebook, they send their message to all 200 million at once? Now we’re building a national movement.

I’ve always felt that protests are a fantastic expression of art and culture, and the amount of time people put into their posters and costumes is inspiring, only for it to all be thrown out after the event. But this protest art deserves to be seen! It shouldn’t be a one-off thing; it should be captured and preserved for all history by dedicated photographers. After all, climate change is an end-of-the-world scenario. These people on the streets are literal heroes, standing up to injustice with the fate of the future on their backs. The climate justice movement is the movement to save the human race, and it deserves to be documented and ennobled in that way, so that 50 years from now, we’ll be able to look back on all the work we put in together on behalf of the children of humanity.

The plan to do this is simple: a social media page that posts portraits of climate protesters and other people involved in the sustainability movement, pictures that are then shared online through further networks. There’s a blueprint for this idea: Humans of New York. Photographer Brandon Stanton takes his camera, snaps beautiful portraits of people on the street, and gets a few words from them to go along with the picture. He then posts these snapshots online to his Facebook page, where they’re shared by thousands and seen by millions. The climate movement needs its own version of this, one where people can be photographed and interviewed about why they care about climate change. If they’re at a protest, they can pose with their signs, and they can share the pictures with the protest’s online event page and with their own network of followers. There are 200 million stories waited to be collected in this way.

By doing this on social media, solving climate change becomes less of a “scientific” challenge, and more a social identity. This is a way for people who care about climate change to join the conversation without having to show up at a protest, or call their congressman, or anything with too high a barrier to entry. Being part of the movement will be as easy as sharing an image and following a page. It puts a human face on what is otherwise a scientific and political issue. It’s quick, social, and has the potential for anyone’s contribution to go viral. With thousands of people sharing their statements online, it will reach out beyond the environmental community and into the culture of the internet at large. Since humans are social creatures, this high exposure will entice more people to join the chorus, and give the impression that everyone is part of the climate movement, which, ultimately, they are.

It’s clear that today’s counterculture — I call it the climate culture — has grown into the mainstream. Most people are on board with everything it stands for: sustainable energy, sustainable products, sustainable democracy. With such a gigantic pool of support to draw from, this online space will brand itself as the social media hub of the sustainability movement, and align itself with all organizations on the sustainability front. The potential exposure of any one climate organization will increase a thousand fold.

The best part about a social media strategy is that it targets the demographic that cares the most about climate change — millennials — by meeting us where we’re at, which is online. If we can turn climate change into a viral phenomenon, it will spread like wildfire throughout the millennial community. 90 minute documentaries are out; 90 second video clips are in. Climate change memes are a particularly fertile genre for communicating a sustainability message. The internet’s democratic structure is the perfect medium for building a sustainable media empire, an outlet that, once it has a critical mass of followers, can be as powerful a force as any traditional media. If millennials unite our voices in an online chorus of culture and conversation, we can prove to the people in power that the climate culture is everywhere. I engage young people on the topic every day; it’s an easy sell. We’re ready to do this. Right now the older generations are deciding our fate for us, and we don’t like the decisions they’re making. We want a say in our future too, and this is the way to do that.

Thankfully, there’s so much content waiting to be published already, it would only take a media team to do it. If the ClimateCulture social media page can publish even one story from every environmental group and event across America, it would fill an entire year’s worth of posts. If we collect a statement or picture from everyone who cares about and is fighting for sustainability, even if we post ten an hour, it would take 2,000 years to go through all 200 million Americans who have something to say about climate change. History is going to remember those who fought for the future, and this will be our way of going on record to say where we stand. The content is waiting to be shared. It just needs a team.

This platform will need to be supported by a skilled group of photographers, journalists, artists, and social media experts, drawing from the vast legion of talent that cares about climate. Students and universities will also be the backbone of this movement. By organizing students based on their skills, a slick, well-made production can generate millennial-relevant content that turns climate change into a cultural lightning rod. Short stories, songs, art, and viral videos can be created just by crowd-sourcing student work. Teachers can incorporate sustainability projects that are then featured online. Contests can be held to highlight the best work. It will be an outpouring of creativity from a generation fluent in digital life. It will document the climate movement one person at a time, the largest movement on Earth, the movement to save civilization. Universities have always been investments in the future, and by joining this project, it will prove to the world that America has the foresight to know that sustainability is the future its students want.

In 2017, the climate culture has hit a tipping point. Climate issues are more visible than they’ve ever been. Every environmental and climate justice organization should have a ClimateCulture representative in charge of social media coverage of group happenings, so that there is a steady stream of quality content ready to broadcast. This snowball effect will then unlock an even greater potential for engagement: advertising sustainable products.

There are thousands of companies working on sustainable products, and the climate culture is seeking a sustainable lifestyle. With the right business model, the ClimateCulture page can partner with these organizations and promise to put their products front and center for the sustainably-minded demographic, directing consumer behavior into investments that won’t destroy the planet. It’s the perfect way to kickstart the sustainable economy, and create a visual identity around the sustainability movement embodied in brands, fashion, and lifestyle choices that will shape society into something that lasts.

Selling things and sharing pictures can only go so far, however. Ultimately, for transformative change to take root, American politics will have to embrace climate change as one of its signature issues. The ClimateCulture page would be a platform for people to read about climate news, science, and learn about the politics surrounding it. ClimateCulture will promote candidates for office that embody sustainable policies, and will encourage citizens to vote for these people so a just and prosperous future can be built. The current political landscape is ready to be disrupted by a climate change candidate or political party, and ClimateCulture will be instrumental in building that following.

At the end of the day, however, it isn’t science or politics that will convince people to live sustainably, but art and culture. There is plenty of art and culture being shared right now among the climate movement that deserves a wider audience. It would not be hard to corral the millions of Americans who care about climate change into a single online community where culture can be shared, events advertised, and sustainable products purchased. It would be a unification of the far-reaching branches of the environmental justice community into a transformative social movement. And it would be the catalyst for the kind of real societal, political, and economic change that will initiate a sustainable world.

If you really think about it, there aren’t five thousand climate organizations out there; there is only one, and it’s all of us. We are the ClimateCulture, and we need unity now more than ever. Climate change can’t afford to wait for the voices of young people to go unheard. It’s up to us, millennials, the climate generation and the masters of the future. Let’s build this platform, share our stories, and get the job done. The future is calling to us.