By: Anabel ’23 and Sophie ’25
History of the Movement
Concern for the environment, for reasons ranging from agricultural production to the romanticist appreciation of Earth’s beauty, dates back centuries. The broad movement, known as environmentalism, began post-Industrial Revolution as a response to the pollution and general degradation of the planet that resulted from global industrialization. Environmentalism is an all-encompassing, catchall term for an ideology and social movement geared towards protecting, maintaining and improving Earth’s ecosystems and natural resources.
According to Britannica, conservationists – people who support the protection and conservation of natural resources – inspired the first wave of United States government policy addressing and protecting the environment. These policies addressed environmental concerns via the creation of national parks, which are formally designated areas of the country reserved for public use and conservation.
One significant aspect of environmental advocacy is the role of indigenous activists. Citing a study done by the Convention on Biological Diversity, the National Resource Defense Council states that “biodiversity is declining less in areas managed by indigenous peoples.” For example, according to the National Farmers Union, the work of indigenous farmers often illustrates the benefits of sustainable farming methods. While indigenous populations engage in preventative measures to protect both flora and fauna, they have also contributed to environmental advocacy and conservation through other means. Whether through legal challenges against a Trump administration policy to eliminate clean water requirements, or mass collaborative protests to highlight different environmental justice initiatives on the “Red Road to DC Walk,” indigenous groups continue to embody the environmentalist movement.
Advocacy for environmental concerns is the purpose of many large political organizations in the United States. The Sunrise Movement is one such group, which gained popularity after the 2018 and 2020 elections as they supported candidates who advocated for causes like increased renewable energy funding and The Green New Deal, a congressional proposal laying out an extensive plan to address climate change.
Further, many newly elected officials throughout the country have formed their platforms around support for environmentalism and climate justice. Maxwell Frost, a Gen Z member of Congress, detailed this position on his campaign website.
“If there is a future, it is a green future,” Frost said. “We cannot hesitate and we cannot let big-oil, big-business and the 1% decide our fates for us.”
Throughout the history of the movement, the media has been a powerful force in the spread of environmentalism, from the writings of transcendentalists in the 19th century to conservationists of the 20th century. Rachel Carson was a pioneering marine biologist whose book Silent Spring raised awareness of the detrimental effects of pesticides on the environment and human health, leading to the banning of dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT) and the eventual development of the Environmental Protection Agency.
Like Rachel Carson and Henry David Thoreau, environmentalists continue to use new forms of media to advocate for the environment. Mass protests and discussion of the Keystone XL Pipeline are recent examples of preventative campaigns attempting to block the construction of environmentally damaging projects. One method that protestors used to share their concerns over the development of this project was through social media.
Impact of Social Media
The use of social media has increased younger generations’ involvement in the environmentalist movement for causes such as climate change, carbon emissions and the Biden Administration’s approval of the Willow Project, an oil drilling project in Alaska that will cause a significant increase in carbon emissions. Recently, social media has been used to spread awareness and educate others, making it a widespread platform for environmental issues.
The Biden administration’s approval of the Willow Project has prompted a large online response. Particularly, the #Stopwillow campaign has emerged on various social media platforms such as Tiktok, where climate activists have utilized their platforms to educate followers about the project and explain its negative effects.
For people across the world, social media is an easy and accessible way to share and access information with a diverse range of content creators and viewers. However, with the increase in online political engagement among the younger generations, the motivations behind social media advocacy and the possible effects of widespread access to political content online are being called into question.
Some journalists, such as Sandrine Jacquot at the Observer, believe that the widespread ability to participate in online discussions may not have positive impacts on advocacy. Molly Rudden, a writer at Pipe Dream, reports that the most common form of social media activism is reposting content, such as infographics or articles in order to spread awareness for various issues. However, the act of reposting information is being increasingly criticized as performative activism. For example, Jacquot stated that the minimal effort required to repost information can lead social media activism to become an act done to please others or make an individual feel as though they have contributed to the environmental cause.
Further, another effect of social media advocacy that is being called into question is the potential for the spread of misinformation. Because the internet allows an individual to easily and quickly share information, the facts they are posting may not be well-researched or free of biases. Thus, the fast-paced nature of posting and reposting on social media can lead to people sharing information without thoroughly reading and fact-checking it.
Media has and likely will continue to be an important tool for the environmental activism movement. The #StopWillow campaign is a relevant example of how grassroots movements can use the internet to mobilize individuals to protect the environment. However, people have increasingly called for a distinction to be made between genuine activism and performative activism, which some believe can be counterproductive to the goals of the environmentalist movement.
In the Marlborough community, social media has increasingly been utilized as a tool for environmental activism and spreading awareness about sustainable practices and events at school. With a target demographic of young adults and adolescents, platforms such as Instagram and Tiktok are widely used both by students and staculty.
In recent years, popular media has been dominated by online platforms as opposed to the print journalism of the past decades. Thus, social media serves as an effective way to share information with both Marlborough students and a broader audience.
“Social media can have a wider reach and catch the attention of content consumers in a way that a newspaper or journal article might not,” science instructor and member of the Campus Environmental Committee Catherine Mino said. “Hearing about environmental concerns on social media can spur further research or a deeper look into the topic.”
On top of playing an important role in allowing Marlborough community members to share their own information about environmental activism and events, social media can also make the school aware of sustainable brands and opportunities that the school can access.
“I do encounter content surrounding environmental concerns/environmentalism on social media platforms,” Mino said. “Some examples that come to mind are organizations that engage with the environment – like hiking groups, or neighborhood cleanup efforts, as well as various companies that sell more environmentally friendly products – like Everlane, or August.”
While there is a large presence of content containing educational resources or information about ways to help a cause, some students expressed concern about the competing amount of misinformation and pessimistic content.
“I try to separate myself from the doomsday posts because they can make me feel like there’s nothing I can do and the situation is hopeless, which isn’t true,” All School Environmental Representative Ella Menton ‘23 said.
Additionally, while some members of the Marlborough community feel that social media has been an effective way for them to spread information about the environment, others agree that online activism can appear artificial to media consumers.
“I think social media environmentalism is a double-edged sword,” Menton said. “On the one hand, it helps people educate themselves about environmental issues and spread the word to others, that being said, an environmental post on social media is still just a social media post.”
Although social media activism has received a variety of both praise and criticism among the student body, in a world dominated by technology, media has ultimately evolved and adapted to the needs and activity of users.
“I feel like social media has many flaws, and we often talk about those flaws, but on the flip side, social media does have the power to create powerful change,” Dolores Yorkin ‘25 said. “It provides education and awareness about topics and issues much of the population would not know about in their daily life, and is able to unite people in a way that our world hasn’t been able to unite before.”
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