It’s no secret that the media industry has a lot to answer for when it comes to its reporting on climate change. It’s been over 50 years since the first evidence for climate change was published yet there are still some conservatives personalities in the mainstream who are determined to keep their heads, and the heads of their readership, firmly in the sand.
For many years, mainstream media’s modus operandi when reporting on global warming was to give equal weighting to scientific evidence on climate change and climate skepticism. This was done in the name of impartiality but was actually a false equivalency we now call “false balance”.
This journalistic and moral failure has given rise to a calamitous mistrust of scientists, public ignorance, and arguably enabled corporations and politicians to avoid meaningful action. In its wake, it has left a legacy that the media industry is still trying to undo, with a lot of climate reporting still falling on deaf ears.
Because of this negligence, the conversation has shifted away from mainstream media outlets onto different platforms. In abandoning traditional outlets and shifting to social media, the public has begun to change its views, taking individual action towards climate change.
Most of us will remember last September when 16-year-old Greta Thunberg inspired climate strikes around the world, dominating social media and in doing so sparking a global conversation.
Her activism on climate change began back in August 2018, where she sat in front of the Swedish parliament for three weeks to protest her government’s lack of action on the climate crisis.
She began using the hashtag #FridaysForFutures on Twitter, and started striking only on Fridays. Initially, she did not gain much traction, as research found that for the first six months she only generated 4 thousand mentions on Twitter.
Since then, she has gained over 500 thousand mentions. Greta Thunberg has now become a household name, with her activism culminating in an address to the UN, as well as being nominated for the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize and named Time’s Person of the Year.
Her explosive rise to fame and her successful raising of awareness shows the power meaningful social media has over traditional news outlets in shaping the conversation around climate change.
Analysis from Newswhip found that during the strikes people were most engaged on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. These digital platforms functioned to stimulate and drive the conversation around climate action in real time, inspiring 187 other countries around the world to have their own climate marches.
Greta’s activism – also known as ‘The Greta Effect’ – led to a soaring of public concern for the environment.
In 2020, it’s now “cool” to be green, as also demonstrated by changes in consumer behaviour and the rise of “green consumerism” on social media.
Eco-conscious consumers use platforms like Instagram, Facebook and Twitter to find out more about the products and services they want to support.
Spending on eco-friendly products such as reusable “keep” cups, canvas bags and reusable straws have skyrocketed, with retail trends showing that consumers are more mindful than ever about the use of plastic.
Not solely is there an increase in demand for sustainability, but research shows that shoppers themselves are willing to splash the cash for products that are kind to mother earth. In the last eight years, the number of consumers who said they would spend more for eco-friendly products grew from 49 per cent to 57 per cent.
The growing concern about the environment has also given rise to the ‘ethical influencer’ as people look for help on ways to reduce their negative impact on the planet.
On Instagram, a community of “thrift-fluencers” has emerged whose aim is combat the effect of fast fashion on the environment. The hashtag #thrifted has been tagged over 1.7 million times on Instagram outfit posts, along with hashtags like #FastFashionRebellion and #30Wears.
Calling out social media celebrities who use non-reusable coffee cups has become so widespread that influencers have to apologise if they do so.
Public pressure on brands to be “green” has evidently become so strong that it has led to situations of “greenwashing” where companies spend more time marketing themselves as environmentally friendly than actually caring about their impact.
As our awareness grows, it has become clear that so too does the pressure on corporations, government and community leaders to listen to our concerns and respond.