Use Social Media To Combat Climate Change Awareness

There is a lot of talk about climate change; however, some new data from the Intergovernmental Panel Climate Change (IPCC) should have all of us concerned about the future of our environment in Jamaica and the region. The October report from the IPCC highlighted that temperatures are likely to rise by 1.5 degrees Celsius between 2030 and 2052 if global warming continues at its current pace and if the world fails to take rapid and unprecedented measures to stem the increase.

Essentially, it means that our children and grandchildren would be greater exposed to heat-related deaths, smaller crop yields, worse extreme weather events, slower economic growth, and more people in poverty. Is this the legacy we want to leave for the next generation?

Climate-related risks to health, livelihoods, food security, water supply, human security, and economic growth could all result in an uninhabitable planet.

Professor Michael Taylor, director of the Climate Studies Group at the Mona Campus of The University of the West Indies, shared his disappointment at the failure of regional policymakers to react and observe the significance of the report to the Caribbean. With the concerns lurking, it is important that we change our behaviour to mitigate climate change, and also adapt. The report concluded that “limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius would require rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society”. Notably, while some of the changes will be top-down, we as individuals can make the changes, spurring a bottom-up approach.

Climate change is a far and abstract topic to the average Jamaican. With the cautionary accounts and the negative implications one question is: How can we involve more people in the discussion around it, and the call to action to respond? The answer may be closer to us than we think — social media.

To form and shape public opinion, matters of climate change must be psychologically closer to people. Information shared through social media can serve as a personalising experience, making the matter 'real'.

We have seen where social media is a powerful tool for communication. The matter of climate change will require real time and constant communication. It will require a communication space that is far-reaching and can facilitate discussion and mobilisation. With approximately 1.20 million active social media users in Jamaica, according to Digital in 2018, as a country, we should move quickly to leverage the power and reach of social media to positively influence modifications in behaviour, to thwart or mitigate the effects of climate change, therefore causing desired behaviours. We have seen where it is used in coordinating rescue and relief operations after climate change-related disasters and to organise movements and campaigns about climate change. Online movements like #MeToo and #BreakFreeFromPlastic, powered by social media, have grown from powerful online campaigns to real world policy change.

There is saying we have in Jamaica “weh eye nuh see, heart nuh leap”. One of the benefits of social media is that information can be communicated and shared in visual form, with posting of images and videos for example, which tends to help in evoking a response.

An grouping called LADbible Group created a social media campaign to engage youth audience, with the aim to shift their thinking around climate change and turn apathy into action. The campaign centred on a broadcast of Before the Flood — a 90-minute documentary by Leonardo DiCaprio and National Geographic on Facebook Live. The stream was watched by over four times more than the US TV broadcast on National Geographic. The team also used Facebook Live to depict the volume of carbon emissions released in real time instigating discussion within the community. In terms of impact, the Facebook Live platform drove their editorial stories, resulting in 45 million reach and eight million engagements. Ultimately, two objectives were met — driving awareness and engagement around the issue and influencing the audience's way of thinking about climate change.

Of further value is the insights that can emerge through analytics. Using text mining, large collection of textual data (eg postings) can be examined and analysed to generate information (or more insights) on public opinions about climate change. This can assist in offering another layer of understanding about what we as Jamaicans think about climate change. For example, a study which conducted analysis on Twitter posts found that persons talk negatively about the climate-related topics of natural disasters, oil drills, and climate bills, but talk positively about climate rallies, green ideas, and a book release, In another study, which analysed tweets in the United Kingdom, United States, Canada, and Australia, they found the phrase global warming is typically associated with the idea that the issue is a hoax, compared to the phrase climate change.

The position here is to not eliminate traditional means of climate change communication, but to also actively complement with social media platforms, such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube. Besides climate change groups in Jamaica, opinion leaders, that is, individuals likely to influence others in their immediate environment, can get involved and share information on climate change to help others understand the concept, the realities of it, and ways to mitigate and adapt. Although social media is simply a tool, and it's up to individuals to make a change, social media can be used to educate and sensitise, which in turn may influence our actions and the steps we take.

Let us get serious about climate change.

Dr Vanesa M Williams is an Information Systems Practitioner and Researcher, with a focus on technology use and its impact. Send comments to the Observer or

[email protected]

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