My upcoming (to-be-pitched) talk at @VanChangeCamp

changecampcityhall Vancouver’s first-ever ChangeCamp (VanChangeCamp) is taking place this Saturday, June 20th, 2009 from 8:30am to 5:30pm at the British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT) downtown campus (near Seymour and Dunsmuir). I have planned to pitch the following talk:

Harnessing Social Media Tools to Mobilize and Engage Citizens in Climate Change Adaptive Strategies

Description of the session:

Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) use a variety of strategies to galvanize public opinion and increase pressure on governments and industry to minimize pollution. My scholarly research has shown that NGOs have more effectively engaged citizens when (a) the issue is related to environment and public health and (b) there is ample room for information dissemination and a strong public awareness campaign. Climate change has become one of the most relevant environmental issues of the past few years. However, it appears as though BC residents are more concerned with mitigative measures rather than adaptive strategies. I am puzzled by why this would happen. I am wondering if one of the elements that is missing is a strong social media campaign on the part of the BC government to raise awareness and educate citizens about potential strategies to adapt to climate change.

The goal of the session is to:

Showcase a number of social media tools, as well as educate governments (and academics) on how to harness the power of social networking sites to disseminate rigorous research findings on adaptation to climate change in British Columbia. The session would be also intended as a brainstorming discussion on best practices on the use of social media to raise awareness in climate change policy.

You know what would be great? Three things:

1) If you could please tweet, re-tweet and/or about VanChangeCamp.
2) If you could forward the registration information (on EventBrite) – to your social networks.
3) If you could encourage non-social-networked folks to come and attend the event.

Also, if you’d want to hear me speak about this topic (or other topics associated to citizen participation in public policy or environmental policy) at VanChangeCamp, feel free to leave a comment here.

Related posts:

  1. VanChangeCamp – June 20th, 2009
  2. Vancouver ChangeCamp (VanChangeCamp) placeholder and idea bouncer
  3. Upcoming event – Climate change talks organized by VTACC (Vancouver)
  4. Upcoming event – 2 Degrees of Fire and Desire: A Theatrical Inquiry into Climate Change
  5. Climate change in Canada and Mexico

Comments (3)

dbhumeJune 17th, 2009 at 6:48 pm

This is awesome…will be at your session, Raul…

Robert BallantyneJune 18th, 2009 at 10:37 am

Raul: I am not an academic, however I have lots of practical experience in aspects of this subject. My leadership positions:
- a past president of Nature Canada and
- the current president of BC Spaces for Nature

Let me comment on your view of the current strategy of NGOs.

From your argument you are making the assumption that ‘enviros’ (once a pejorative term that now some of us wear with pride) want to galvanize public opinion and increase pressure on governments and industry. I am not convinced that is what these organizations really want. It is my experience that real communication with the public happens only after all other strategies fail. And then they are not effective because those organizations have not really invested the time to create powerful machinery to communicate to the public.

What, then, do these organizations do? It is my personal observation that Canadians seem to believe that to effect a change in public policy, all they need to do is convince the government leaders, especially the Federal and Provincial Ministers, of the validity of their position. The (lunatic) assumption is that if they can effectively make their case, the Minister-in-question will slap her/his forehead and exclaim, “My God, I never knew! I am so glad that you explained it to me. Now that I know, I’ll get right on it and fix the situation.” As a result, these groups spend an enormous amount of time researching the validity of their position; writing articles, position papers and policies; and then attending endless conferences and meetings to discuss these positions. With all of this, they can show to their funders (and members if they have them) how busy they are making their case.

I remember in the 80s and early 90s most of the attempts to engage the public were usually last-ditch efforts to save something by, for example, a demonstration that might include sitting down in front of bulldozers. These events did result in television clips (this was back when people still watched TV). It also pitted the enviros against labour (the unfortunate and largely mistaken perception that the fight was characterized by jobs vs. the environment). For whatever reason, the public, and particularly the media, really lost interest by the end of the 90s. A decade ago it was hard to do anything environmental that would result in a big media story.

This has changed, and quite dramatically, in the past couple of years. In my opinion, it is due to the work of one person: Al Gore. Not only did he serve as the US Vice President, he was actually elected President of the USA by the popular vote. Only the very flawed issue of the American Electoral College cheated him out of his legitimate win. I mention this to show that he is really a very popular person. Perhaps the fact that he did not assume the job in the Oval Office was better for the human health of the planet because he could (and did) focus on global warming. This was not a just a celebrity cause for him, it turns out that this had been a passion and a study of his for a long time. Now global warming is everyone’s concern, and environmental issues in general are once again news.

Why, then, are environmental NGOs (I don’t like that term — except that they are incorporated they have nothing at all to do with government — the term suggests that they are quasi-government) still not trying to galvanize public opinion? This has been a considerable concern of mine. Since I have some experience with grass-roots organization and volunteers, my strategy would be to raise an army of supporters. If these organizations had hundreds of thousands of mainly ACTIVE members, what politician would say ‘no’ to them? Instead, these organizations are satisfied to work on ‘making their case.’ Since this strategy is often less compelling to government than the counter-arguments from industry (ministries know that business taxes are contributing to government revenues), I ask again, why continue with this ineffectual course?

My answer offends some of the good people whom I know have been working for years on these issues. In my opinion, most of the people in the leadership of our enviros are more interested in being right than in securing a win. These people know their arguments (they’ve studied them and honed over the years) and they are safe advocating for the purity of their position. A grass-roots public campaign is a messy affair with the potential to unleash a huge amount of public sentiment and even rage. It has aspects that are very emotional. The leadership would become very public and very vulnerable. Even the win, when it was achieved, would probably involve some compromise and deal-making. This is life without a safety net.

I know that your talk focuses on pollution and climate change. My personal interests have been in the protection of species and wild spaces. These issues may seem different in people’s minds, but they are really closely connected. My comment here has to do with a Canadian mindset that seems to avoid building a huge community-of-support with the hope that our wise governments will come to understand the problems and appropriately address them. I believe that government does not lead, it follows. Politicians are more likely to be convinced by the size of the constituency, than by the validity of an argument.

Today, with the rise of social media, it is probably easier than ever to raise a community-of-support. Our enviros could do it, if they were will to take risks and be willing to move out of their comfort zone.

Robert Ballantyne’s last blog post..Meager Creek Hot Springs

ChristineJune 18th, 2009 at 4:58 pm

voting yes for your session. looking forward to meeting you in person!

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