Our time is often referred to as the digital age;anyone with access to the internet can start a global conversation. This trend has become a common phenomenon since the advent of social media. Everyone turns to social media to express themselves. It is no longer possible to miss out on any incident, no matter what its scale or whether it is local or global. One’s interest, or lack thereof, in a specific topic doesn’t carry much weight either. With each passing day, blocking out the information overload is becoming more difficult.
In the past, there were very few avenues through which people could express their opinion and get the attention of the traditional media. If small-scale efforts didn’t work, the last resort was to take to the streets. The 1970s were marked by such street protests calling for change.
Today, we can connect and communicate like never before. Access to the rest of the world is just a click away and social media platforms have played a key role in connecting people from across the globe. However, the magnitude of social media is both its blessing and its curse. At times, the medium brings out the worst in individuals.
Conservation and climate change topics are no exceptions and feathers get ruffled during online discourse – it does not matter whether the topic is illegal hunting, food security, melting glaciers, droughts and floods due to unpredictable weather patterns, extinctions or the mistreatment of animals.
Not only are people aware of these subjects, they use social media to get involved in various ways – from sharing their opinions to supporting various conservation campaigns. They show their support by making the simple pledge to symbolically adopt animals that might not even exist in their home countries. The large-scale involvement of people from around the globewas exemplified by the various campaigns that were conducted prior to the UN Climate Change Conference (COP21) in Paris in December 2015.
Apart from being a source of information, social media has provided a space for like-minded people to connect and join forces in searching for solutions for a sustainable planet.Organisations are using this medium to connect with their audience directly, educating them about the environment and coming up with practical solutions.
Despite all the positive effects of social media, one cannot ignore its negative aspects. The trend of negative discourse is too intense to be ignored. At times, while expressing their views, people lose the ability to centre themselves in the heat of the moment and get carried away to the extent that they openly call for violence.
The issues concerning conservation are very complex. Despite all the scientific research, conversations about climate change between those who deny it and those who don’t become contentious. Instead of working towards solutions, the dialogue devolves into a heated ping-pong match between the two sides. Very quickly, both sides start accusing each other of conspiracies.
One of the reasons that many resort to suchbrash attitude is the lack of accountability for what is said in cyberspace. The cover of anonymity gives people further room to operate as they please. Freedom of expression should be tempered with responsibility,but the luxury of hiding behind online anonymity is taken as a free pass to avoid responsibility.
In the context of conservation and climate change, it seems that the louder voices have the least understanding about these topics. The undercurrent is that as long as one is passionate, the scientific facts can be ignored. It all goes downhill from there and no one emerges victorious. Passion that is not backed by facts and practical solutions, ends up hurting the cause. This is especially true when it comes to the countries like Pakistan, where many still consider climate change to be a ‘Western concept’, despite the fact that we are amongst the top ten most-affected countries. The frequent floods, droughts, changing weather patterns, declining groundwater levels and endangered species should serve as the writing on the wall, which proves that climate change needs our attention and sustainable solutions.
It is important for any practical, long-term results that there be a connection between on-the-ground and virtual campaigns. It is time to stop using cyberspace as a veritable battleground. Violent rants on social media are not going to change anything. A good starting point is for peopleto start taking responsibility for their online activities and use this powerful medium responsibly. If it is used in the right manner, this medium could be of great service.
Seth Godin said, “Ideas that spread, win.”
When global communication is just a click away, spreading good ideas will ensure that we are able to pass on nature’s gifts to future generations, so that they can enjoy them the way we have been able to. Considering the current state of the world, spreading wrong ideas is not something that we can afford.