Slacker Activism: Slacktivism

  • The "Lil' Green Patch" application on Facebook (Image by Jessi Ziegler)

Getting involved in a social
or environmental cause these
days is as easy as clicking
your mouse. Some people think
grassroots activism is just
changing its face as technology
changes… but other people think
we’re becoming slackers. Rebecca
Williams explores whether we’re
a nation of slack-tivists:

Transcript

Getting involved in a social
or environmental cause these
days is as easy as clicking
your mouse. Some people think
grassroots activism is just
changing its face as technology
changes… but other people think
we’re becoming slackers. Rebecca
Williams explores whether we’re
a nation of slack-tivists:

The other day I met this guy, Patrick Diehl. And I was trying to get him to describe himself.

“Uh, I’m a Pisces and I enjoy long walks on the beach and horseback riding; good sense of humor; still gets pimples.”

Add to that: slack-tivist. That’s a slacker activist. But he was telling me he wasn’t always this way. For twenty years, he was one of those door knocking, envelope licking activists. He worked for a governor. He used to drag his little daughter to rallies. Now he’s just burned out.

“I could get on the phone and call someone about an issue but I choose to sit down on Facebook and hit three mouse clicks and a return and feel good about myself.”

And lately, his slacktivism has hit a brand new low.

(sound of mouse clicks)

“My little green patch is dry. That means I’ve been neglecting it.”

If you’re a Facebook virgin, the Lil’ Green Patch is this application that lets you send plants to your friends’ online gardens. The idea is, the more you play, the more money advertisers will give to save the rainforest.

“Rebecca: “So wait did you actually do this for a while?”

Patrick: “Yeah!”

Rebecca: “And you felt good about it.”

Patrick: “Yes! I thought my spending time on here is leading to something bigger than myself.” (laughs)

But then, Patrick got in trouble. His wife – Anita – said he was just spending way too much time online. Lil’ Green Patch died. He’d rather play another online game, like Mafia Wars.

But you know, at least at one time Patrick was very active. Some people think clicking on a little green patch is their contribution to a better world.

“That’s a trending topic, that’s a trending term, slacktivist.”

Apollo Gonzales works for one of those big environmental groups, the Natural Resources Defense Council. He’s what’s called a netroots manager. You might say it’s his job to get slacktivists off their butts.

“If you measure the one click activism, or slacktivism, against someone who’s visiting their representative on the Hill once a year, then yeah I think it’s on the low end of what can be done. But you’ve got to start somewhere with a lot of these people.”

So, Apollo blogs and tweets and uses online social media to get people talking. Because talking sometimes actually leads to doing something.

“We have a world where we are more connected than we ever have been, and a world where we can share our stories faster and more richly than we ever have been able to. And that’s great for people who are fighting for a cause.”

And there’s actually some research to back this up.

Scott Campbell studies new media at the University of Michigan.

“There have been some studies recently that show when people use text messaging as reminders to go out and vote, we do see significant increases in voter turnout.”

He says cell phones and the Internet are basically giving us more ways to communicate – and that’s good for us as a society. But he says we do have to be a little careful – because if all our online friends think like we do, we can become little isolated e-communities.

Basically, the more Facebook friends you have, and the more new ideas you can share, the better.

So if you want to be a better slacktivist, you might have to make some choices. You could sign a million online petitions. I mean there are 15,000 environment causes on Facebook. And then there’re all those other things, like Mafia Wars, and other distractions that people like Patrick have to deal with.

Patrick: “I’ve been kidnapped to Barcelona but I’m gonna ignore that.”

Anita: “See you just say ignore, ignore it!”

Patrick: “Someone just sent me a slap on the rear end. I’m gonna ignore that. I probably wouldn’t but my wife is right here so I’m going to ignore that.” (both laugh)

With distractions like these… even slacktivism’s getting to be hard work.

For The Environment Report, I’m Rebecca Williams.

Related Links

Hip Hop Artists Tackle Environmental Issues

  • Some Hip Hop artists are using their music to reach people about environmental issues affecting their communities (Photo source: Lestat at Wikimedia Commons)

When many people think of songs about the environment, they conjure up visions of folk singers and acoustic guitars. But the environment is becoming a more prevalent issue among Hip-Hop artists. Lester Graham reports they’re looking at the issue and how it affects their lives directly:

Transcript

When many people think of songs about the environment, they conjure up visions of folk singers and acoustic guitars. But the environment is becoming a more prevalent issue among Hip-Hop artists. Lester Graham reports they’re looking at the issue and how it affects their lives directly:

Environmentalists are often portrayed as treehugging elitists by conservative talk show hosts – and others.

That image really was never accurate, but the environmental movement is becoming more diverse. The environmental issues are becoming increasingly important to a wider swath of society.

Mike Cermack is a consultant for Boston’s public schools. He helps teachers figure out the best ways to teach classes such as environmental science.

He’s come to the conclusion that music can go a long way in getting the attention of kids in the classroom – especially since Hip-Hop artists started tackling the environment and not just as some distant ‘polar bears and butterflies’ issue.

“We really want to start at the corner store and ask deep questions like, ‘why isn’t there any fresh produce? Is that linked to the fact that diabetes and obesity is kind of rampant in our neighborhoods and in our families?’”

As people living in inner cities Cermack says – artists such as Mos Def did it in his song ‘New World Water.’

(clip of Mos Def song)
And it’s not just those big nationally known artists.

Mike Cermack says he stumbled into Boston’s local ‘green Hip-Hop’ movement by working with activists who were trying to stop a power plant from being built next to an elementary school.

“In talking with them further and getting to know them, also many of them turned out to be these really talented MCs, these talented lyricists who are using the new knowledge that they found working with the non-profits and kind of weaving those into their more traditional narratives of ‘this is what’s wrong with street/urban issues; this is what’s wrong with all the gangsters around/in my city.’ They’re saying how can we also bring in these environmental issues.”

And those artists are pulling in friends and bringing a whole lot of street cred to environmental issues.

Tem Blessed and Ben Gilbarg called in some of their Boston friends to perform ‘Green Anthem.’

(clip of ‘Green Anthem’)

“They’re staying true to their roots as kind of the voice social injustice and speaking out against urban problems and they’re really mixing it up with a lot of environmental issues.”

Mike Cermack says he’s been working to get students interested in environmental issues in the classroom, but Hip-Hop artists such as J-Live and Thes One get it done in a way the students know.

“They’re already used to loving the hip-hop tracks. And they know the MC. You know, it’s more important that the MC is from the community. That’s another big piece. I think it’s a really interesting start to this green hip-hop potential.”

For The Environment Report, I’m Lester Graham.

Related Links

Defending Rights of Nature

  • Sister Pat Siemen (pictured) leads a seminar on earth jurisprudence at Barry Law School in Orlando, Florida. (Photo by Jennifer Szweda Jordan)

Some lawyers believe it’s time to stand for the rights of nature. They want to represent trees. They want to defend the rights of birds and lakes, and all of nature.
They’re trying to put into practice a theory called earth jurisprudence.
Jennifer Szweda
Jordan has the story:

Transcript

Some lawyers believe it’s time to stand for the rights of nature. They
want to represent trees. They want to defend the rights of birds and
lakes, and all of nature. They’re trying to put into practice a theory
called earth jurisprudence. Jennifer Szweda Jordan has the story:


A law seminar on defending the rights of nature is probably not what
you expect, at least not at first. The start of Roman Catholic Sister
Pat Siemen’s law seminar on earth jurisprudence is unorthodox and Zen
like:


“We’re gonna start with our reflection time. And what I’d like you to
do is close your computers.”


Siemen taps a handheld chime in a classroom at Barry Law School in
Orlando, Florida. She has the law students practice slowing down so
they’ll notice what’s going on around them in nature, and they’ll take
the time to really think about arguing for the rights of nature in the
courtroom.


The legal system doesn’t recognize the rights of nature just yet.
Courts interpret the Constitution as protecting needs and rights of
humans. So only humans, or say, groups of humans such as corporations
can sue. The rights of bunnies and trees aren’t entitled to a voice in
courtrooms. Siemen says the emerging field of earth jurisprudence wants
to change that.


Part of the whole thought of earth jurisprudence is that other beings
actually be given their rights -legislatively – to come into court
through the understanding that someone as a guardian or trustee stands
in their right.


Besides teaching this new area of law, Siemen directs the Center for
Earth Jurisprudence. The center’s just wrapped up its first academic
year. Siemen’s early legal work focused on advocating for people who
were poor, minorities, or otherwise marginalized.


Siemen moved in a different direction when she was influenced by
ecotheologian Thomas Berry. Berry says that if the animals and trees
had a voice, they’d vote humans off the planet. Siemen was shocked:


“I had spent my whole life – at least adult life – ministerially trying
to stand in positions of empowerment of others, and furthering the
rights of others and I had never once really thought about what it
meant to be – whether it would be rivers or endangered species – what
it would mean to have to live and exist totally by the decisions of
humans.”


Siemen was also influenced by University of Southern California Law
School professor Christopher D. Stone. Stone wrote an article entitled
“Should Trees Have Standing?” In 1972, Supreme Court Justice William
Douglass agreed that inanimate objects should have rights. But that
view hasn’t gotten very far in American courtrooms.


The idea that ecosystems should have legal rights is problematic in the
view of free-market advocates. Sam Kazman is General Counsel for the
Competitive Enterprise Institute. He calls the theory of earth
jurisprudence gibberish.


“It is impossible to lay out what is in the best interest of an
ecosystem unless you lay out just what you as someone who owns that
ecosystem, or enjoys it, or appreciates it from a distance, what you
hold important.”


In other words, the owner will decide what’s best for the ecosystem.
Some legal experts believe giving nature rights would take nothing less
than a constitutional amendment.


University of Pittsburgh Law Professor Tom Buchele disagrees. He’s an
environmental lawyer who’s used the standing concept – unsuccessfully –
in arguing for a forest. He says that the Supreme Court could, if it
chose, interpret the constitution as allowing nature to have legal
standing:


“There’s certainly nothing in the constitution that says a case or
controversy has to have a person as the entity. It’s just that current
case law doesn’t do that.”


Buchele and Siemen know changes in court decisions are a long way away.
But if teaching about earth jurisprudence can make tomorrow’s corporate
counsels, real estate lawyers, and governmental officials consider the
trees and the water in their work, Siemen feels she’ll have made some
progress.


And getting law students to think about the rights of nature along with
the rights of humans might be the start of the legal revolution Siemen
wants to see.


For the Environment Report, this is Jennifer Szweda Jordan.

Related Links

Reducing Pvc Use

Environmental groups are praising a group of companies, including Microsoft, Toyota, and Hewlett-Packard. The companies are phasing out the use of a plastic called PVC. But environmentalists say there’s a long way to go to protect the environment from PVC. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Tracy Samilton reports:

Transcript

Environmental groups are praising a group of companies, including
Microsoft, Toyota, and Hewlett-Packard. The companies are phasing out
the use of a plastic called PVC, but environmentalists say there’s a long
way to go to protect the environment from PVC. The Great Lakes Radio
Consortium’s Tracy Samilton reports:


PVC, or Polyvinyl Chloride, is a plastic found in a host of construction,
automobile and home use products. When something made of PVC is
burned, it releases toxic chemicals. The most dangerous is dioxin, which
is believed to cause cancer.


Steven Lester of the Center for Health, Environment and Justice says
municipal incinerators aren’t the only ones burning PVC. People in rural
areas do too. He says trash service is much more expensive for those
people.


“Many people find it cheaper to just burn their trash in the backyard and
get rid of it that way.”


Some studies say after industry, open burning is the second highest
source of dioxin in the environment. Only 18 states have banned open
burning, but others are considering it.


For the GLRC, I’m Tracy Samilton.

Related Links

David Orr Speaks Out About Oil Consumption

Many Americans don’t see a connection between the war in Iraq and the price of gas at the pump, but a leading environmentalist says they should. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Julie Grant reports:

Transcript

Many Americans don’t see a connection between the war in Iraq and the price of gas at the pump, but a leading environmentalist says they should. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Julie Grant reports:

Soon after George W. Bush took office, David Orr was asked to join a presidential committee aimed at improving environmental policies. They wanted the Oberlin environmental studies professor because he was considered a quote “sane environmentalist.” The group’s recommendations were supposed to be presented to Administration officials in September 2001, but after the 9-11 terrorist attacks, committee members felt their report was shelved.

“And the essential message of it was that this really is one world and what goes around comes around. And things are connected in pretty strange, ironic, and paradoxical ways and the long-term future isn’t that far off. So you really cannot make separations of things that you take to be climate, from economy, ecology, fairness, equity, justice, and ultimately security.”

But Orr says the Bush Administration and much of the nation weren’t ready for that message. People felt the need to retaliate against Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda. Many political analysts also agreed with President Bush, that the United States had an important role to play in ousting Saddam Hussein in Iraq. But Orr believes the U.S. invasion of Iraq was less about terrorism than it was about America’s need for Middle East oil.

“If you remove the fact that Iraq has 10-percent of the oil reserves in the world and Saudi Arabia has about 25-percent, that’s about a third of the recoverable oil resource on the planet, take the oil out, would we be there? And that’s a major issue. We’re there, in large part, because we have not pursued energy efficiency.”

Orr says reducing U.S. dependence on foreign oil would make the nation more secure than spending billions of dollars in military costs to fight for those oil reserves.

Some lawmakers say reducing dependence on Middle East oil is one reason to drill for oil at home, in places such as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. But Orr says political leaders and citizens should instead find ways to use less oil and reduce the need for it. He says the federal energy bill should force automakers to build cars that get better gas mileage.

“If we bumped our energy efficiency up from 22 miles per gallon to 35 or 40, which is easily achievable, that’s not difficult. The technology already exists to do that. We wouldn’t have to fight wars for oil, we wouldn’t be tied to the politics of an unstable region.”

“But the car makers aren’t being forced to…”

“No – the CAFEs? no. If we had a decent energy policy, it would be a strategy not of fighting oil wars, but using in America what is our long suit: our ability with technology to begin to move us toward fuel efficiency, and that process is actually well under way. It just doesn’t get the support of the federal government.”

Instead of trying to encourage fuel efficiency, Orr says Congress is thinking about short-term answers. With the price of gas at the pump more than two dollars a gallon, the Senate recently approved a tax break package to encourage further domestic oil and gas production.

Orr wants consumers to push for energy alternatives, rather than finding more places to drill, but Americans like their big SUVs, and Orr says few politicians would risk asking them to forgo the comfort, luxury, and perceived safety of big trucks as a way to preserve energy for future generations.

“Everybody knows gas prices have to go up, everybody knows that. The question is whether we have somebody who is say a combination of Ross Perot and Franklin Roosevelt who would sit down and level with the American public. We have got to pay more.”

Orr says even if you don’t mind paying the price at the gas station, there are higher costs we’re paying for oil consumption.

“You pay for energy whatever form you get it, but you pay for efficiency whether you get it or not. You pay by fighting oil wars. You pay with dirty air and you pay at the doctor’s office or the hospital or the morgue, but you’re gonna pay one way or the other, and the lie is that somehow you don’t have to pay. And sometimes you don’t have to if you’re willing to offload the costs on your grandchildren or on other people’s lives, but somebody is gonna pay.”

And Orr says that payment is going to be either in blood, money, or public health. He outlines his thoughts on the motivations for the war in Iraq in his new book “The Last Refuge: Patriotism, Politics, and the Environment in an Age of Terror.”


For the Great Lakes Radio
Consortium, I’m Julie Grant.

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