Last week I read an article in the New York Times entitled “That Cute Whale You Clicked On? It’s Doomed”. The author, Amanda Hess, writes about wildlife photographers using Instagram as a way to increase environmental awareness. They send a strong message on the reality of climate change by baiting viewers with a cute animal picture and pairing it with a description of how said animal is threatened. It’s environmental education, Instagram-style. Hess’s piece focuses predominantly on wildlife photographers as activists on social media, but I think anyone can do this: from college student to conservation biologist.
It’s natural that photographers should be the first to adapt to this new platform to activism. Instagram is inherently visual and encourages an artistic lens. Social media can be overwhelming if you are new to it, and at times it seems downright trivial (think the “Damn, Daniel” phase). Yet it remains a powerful platform for driving change today.
Visibility is the first step in triggering engagement in a social movement. Bringing issues such as biodiversity and habitat loss into the limelight is the first step toward influencing their future behavior. How will people put their money and votes behind an initiative to protect a wetlands area if they’ve never experienced the wonder of the wildlife there? Instagram is a fantastic platform for bringing inaccessible issues to the top of the public’s newsfeed. It’s easy to throw a like to a cute penguin you see on Instagram, and if you take thirty seconds to read the caption you might learn about the impacts of rising sea temperatures on Mr. Penguin’s life. Unlike that boring video about melting ice caps you watched in tenth grade bio, this lesson is short and sweet. You’re more likely to remember it.
Climate change is a vast and complicated issue. It affects human health, crop production, ecosystem functions, coral reefs, economics, and international relations, as I touched on in my last blog post. As I write those terms, however, it’s glaringly obvious to me that they mean very little without a context. People are not swayed by large, scary proclamations. It’s hard to decipher the wordy warnings and analysis published by scientists. A heart-jerking image is enough to get them reading, to get them interested in learning more about how climate change is impacting the world around them.
A shining example of the power of photography? Ansel Adams. You’ve probably seen his work even if you don’t know his name. Adams is known for his striking photos of the American wilderness. Working with Nancy Newhall in the 1950s and 1960s, he helped create the Sierra Club’s This is the American Earth (1960), a book which is considered key in launching the first widely-embraced citizen environmental movement. Adams fought for the Wilderness Act and preservation of our country’s natural spaces. In many ways he is a founding father of our National Park System.
While we aren’t all Ansel Adams, most of us do at least have Instagram. Take a few moments to go find the future Ansel Adams out there and throw ‘em some love.
Here are a few ways you can make your Insta-use a bit more conscientious.
Be up to date on the latest environmental news. Exciting things are always happening, like Obama’s creation of the first marine monument in the Atlantic. Add a few reliable news sources or nature-themed accounts to your homepage--celebrate landmarks like the National Park Service’s centennial this year. National Geographic has a great newsfeed to keep you up-to-date on all things nature.
Share with a purpose.
Arctic animals are cute, but focus on something closer to home now and again. I follow the West Michigan Environmental Action Council (WMEAC), a nonprofit I interned at two years ago. Based out of Grand Rapids (Midwest represent!) they work to involve the West Michigan community in environmental stewardship. Even though I go to school in Baltimore, MD now, I love seeing them host cleanups like this one. If you like something in your area, or share their information on other social media, your friends will probably like it, too. (I always steal or cool accounts from my friends.)
Support climate-positive brands.
@Waterlust is a beautiful account that raises awareness about global water issues through social media. Their posts are educational and full of #travelgoals. Click on hyperlinks when you like an account: by visiting a brand’s website, you are showing them virtual support, and they can attract more donors/ad buyers by showing that their Instas lead to click conversions.
These are just a few of the ways you can flex your Instagram muscles in support of climate change awareness. There are hundreds of cool accounts and interesting themes to be found on social media--go explore what’s share-worthy.
Know of some awesome environmental accounts? Share ‘em in the comments below!
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Photo used under Creative Commons from Noel Feans