Are we right to sniff at clicktivism? 3 successes in armchair activism

Among the words officially added to Oxford Dictionaries earlier this year was ‘clicktivism’ – activism using digital media. The term is often deployed with derision. But so-called armchair activists can have a positive impact, argues Joshi Gottlieb from environmentally conscious search engine Ecosia

‘Clicktivism’ has fallen into disrepute. It has come to stand for the ineffective actions of virtue-signalling armchair revolutionaries, people who aim to alleviate their own conscience rather than help those in need. This reputation is undeserved: online action has not only given rise to a truly global community, it has also made the world a better, more just place – and a greener one, too.

The sceptics are right about one thing: clicktivism makes you feel good about yourself. But if you’re also helping the environment and those who depend on it, then what’s wrong with feeling good? Clicktivism is commonly criticised for making people lazy: that being able to contribute to a good cause with a tap of a finger or a micro-payment makes people less political or reluctant to invest more time, energy or money in something they believe in.


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But what if it is actually the other way around? Empowering users to easily contribute to something bigger than themselves as part of their daily lives can help raise awareness. It makes activism accessible to millions of people, regardless of how much time, energy or money they have. Clicktivism is a very powerful, scalable tool. And leveraging the enthusiasm of a global community could actually allow us to tackle issues that transcend borders, like famine, environmental or political crises. What might seem impossible for an individual to achieve looks a lot less overwhelming once millions of people have joined forces.

It makes activism accessible to millions of people, regardless of how much time, energy or money they have

In celebration of Earth Day, here are three online platforms that are helping people and planet

1. Share The Meal

One in nine people does not have access to enough food to lead a healthy life. This is not because of a lack of food – globally, we produce more than enough to feed everyone. Famines have rather become a matter of distribution. And more and more people are choosing to do their part to make that distribution more equal.

Share The Meal is the world’s first mobile app that allows people to ‘share a meal’ with a child in need at the tap of a phone. Each time, users donate 50 US cents (35p) – the cost of feeding one child for a day. The United Nations World Food Programme provides the meals, and the app lets you track where exactly they are being distributed.

It works. In 2016, for instance, Malawi was affected by severe drought caused by the El Niño weather event, one of the consequences of our warming planet. Share The Meal’s users raised funds to provide school meals for 58,000 children in one of the worst-hit regions in the country.

A child in Cameroon who was helped by Share The Meal. Image: Share The Meal

2. Change.org

Petitions on change.org have made a global community come together in exceptional acts of environmental solitary. Among the website’s success stories, a class of fourth graders petitioned Universal Studios to strengthen the environmental message in the Dr. Seuss book-turned-film, The Lorax. “Let the Lorax speak for the trees,” they urged. It worked. The studio updated the film’s website to include the environmental message that the children had requested.

Abby Goldberg, 13, made it her school project to bring about a local ban on single-use plastic shopping bags in her home town of Grayslake, Illinois. After gathering 150,000 signatures for her petition ‘don’t let big plastic bully me’, the then-state governor personally called to thank her for her help in bringing the issue to light. He decided to veto legislation that would have prevented cities and towns in Illinois from banning plastic bags and imposing fees on their use.

Clicktivism is a very powerful, scalable tool

Important steps have been taken to protect the Peel river watershed, one of Canada’s wildest, most rugged and untouched wildernesses, thanks in part to a petition. And palm oil plantations, that cause widespread devastation to plant and animal life, have been outlawed in Tripa, the area with the highest density orangutan populations in Indonesia, following another.

The Peel river, Canada. Image:Dr. John Cloud/NOAA Central Library

3. Ecosia

The internet can be a fabulous place full of astonishing information, you just have to find it. Most people would agree that, as long as the world wide web exists, people will use search engines.

What many people don’t know is how much money search engines make with online advertising. Every time a user clicks on an ad on the search result page, their search engine is paid by the advertiser. And these clicks add up. Industry giants like Google make around $30 (£23.45) per year and user. What if there was an alternative to Google that invested this money into something as important as planting trees?

In fact, there is. In terms of quality of results and general performance Ecosia – where I work – functions like any other search engine. It’s easy to install in all browsers and is available on mobile. The difference is this: 80 per cent of our profits from advertising are used to finance tree-planting programs all over the world. To date, Ecosia’s users have helped finance close to 8m trees. Ecosia’s goal is to finance 1bn trees by 2020 – more than an eighth of the Global Earth Day Network’s goal of planting 7.8bn in the same timeframe.

Why trees, you may ask? Because they help nourish vulnerable communities, create jobs, and grow healthy and useful fruits and seeds. Trees restore landscapes, restart water cycles, produce oxygen and neutralise CO2, and provide a habitat for a multitude of (including many endangered) species. Trees, in short, are pretty awesome.

Ecosia has so far planted almost 8m trees


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