Slacktivism can be defined as actions performed via the Internet in support of a political or social cause but regarded as requiring little time or involvement, e.g. signing an online petition or joining a campaign group on a social media website or application. Slacktivist activity could include hitting a “like” button or signing an online petition. I know, I’m often a slacktivist myself across a range of issues.
A healthy percentage of our slacktivism occurs around conservation issues, yet conservation efforts worldwide are in big trouble.
In Australian politics we are caught between the devil and the deep blue sea around conservation related issues. With the governing Coalition we have a stubborn intransigence, the Greens are dangerously naive, lacking in pragmatism and in actuality give those poor “fairies at the bottom of the garden” bad name, and the ineptitude of the ALP when it comes to designing and implementing anything practical is well demonstrated. All exhibit fixed and ideological perspectives that they are unable to modify, and this brings them all into conflict and unable to cooperate on anything meaningful.
When the world is viewed via fixed and immovable ideological lenses the world can only be viewed through a tunnel.
Once upon a time, short-lived creatures such as ourselves could have been excused for being unable to appreciate the long-term impacts we have on the systems that support us. Now we have no excuse. We have vast amounts of new knowledge and understanding about our environmental systems and an abundance of appreciation of the potential dangers we face should we continue to degrade these systems. The changes being wrought in our living systems through our action and inaction are now demonstrably occurring within the space of decades, where similar changes in the past have taken 1000’s of years.
We have placed our foot on the accelerator and we are headed downhill.
Human populations are expanding at an unsupportable rate, natural habitats are diminishing, extinction rates are accelerating, soils are being lost, air is being polluted and the oceans are being acidified and poisoned.
The instability that these phenomena will bring about could have unpredictable and dramatic domino effects worldwide. Population, food and water security issues in various parts of the world could even have devastating and unforeseeable impacts here in safe and complacent Australia. The interconnected and brittle world economies ensure we are now all in the same boat.
These kinds of concerns and such big picture items like “the Environment” are the type of things we generally leave to decision makers high up. It is after all, so crucial to our future existence they must be taking care of business … Right?
Wrong. The “environment” has been politicised and it’s no longer about meaningful, focused action to address issues, it’s about political point-scoring within short-term election cycles and towing the party line. Alternate ideology and political views to one’s own are of course always wrong.
The climate-change debate serves to illustrate this adversarial approach nicely. The semantics and chicanery being applied by both sides of the political divide around this issue is unhelpful. Just once I’d like to hear reasoned scientists having this discussion and incorporating multiple perspectives instead of politicians and activists reinterpreting different elements for political mileage.
Right and wrong is now irrelevant and it really doesn’t matter what ideology you favour. The issue is that political and ideological bias is preventing any real progress toward resolution.
If there is even the slightest of possibilities that human activities are a contributing factor to climate change we must act now and make a serious attempt to modify or remove these activities from the equation. But no, we continue to talk about it, devise protocols on and sit on our hands. It is a pointless exercise to produce policies for long term and sustained change if they are not going to be both pragmatic and supported by consecutive Governments. Policy is developed based around ideology which increases division and not around ways of bringing everyone on board.
A new collaborative approach is demanded for serious issues such as the environment, but cooperation is at complete odds inside a political system that is ideology driven and about winning and losing – So a collaborative approach is not going to happen.
While climate is the big ticket item at the moment, it’s of equal importance that we tackle the myriad other deadly issues that are thus far being bungled. We have become afraid to speak out against population growth because it’s viewed as politically-incorrect for a first world country to impose their views on a developing one – even if that developing one is going to hell in a hand basket due to population issues. Water is another topic that not enough is being done about. Globally, we do not have enough to service our growing populations, and what we do have we are badly contaminating. Bio-diversity is another crucial battleground, the numbers of plants and animals now extinct or on the endangered list are out of control. The list goes on …
We condone the slaughter of sentient species such as Elephants, Rhinos and Tigers because of a fondness of ivory trinkets or primitive belief systems around powdered animal product providing improved erectile function? The list of greed-based, senseless and unnecessary killing goes on and it seems there’s little we can do about it.
Or, can we?
We know now that minimal action will come in time from a political level. The Nero’s in parliaments will continue to fiddle while Rome burns so it is beholden upon everyone to do something to ensure future generations experience the many wonders of the world that we have taken for granted.
There is only one person who can make a difference and that is you – we all have a responsibility to become involved irrespective of our “levels of busyness” and start getting some skin in the game. A reactive one-off letter to an MP protesting the inhumane treatment of cattle because we saw it on Four Corners is not enough, signing an online petition is not enough and liking or sharing a Facebook post is certainly not enough. These things are great for raising awareness and awareness is an absolutely necessary function, but that’s all it is. Being aware of dog being skinned alive and tortured before being eaten does little for said dog, only follow up action can make a difference.
We need to act.
To assist in this I have pulled together a few broad rules of thumb based on real life experience in this space that may help. They are not a recipe for success but your additions, deletions and adjustments to suit your own context might potentially make them so!
How to make a difference …
1) Choose a cause and take a deep dive into it. No one can be all things to all causes, select one and make a difference. The more you spread yourself thin over multiple causes the more shallow your impact becomes. Do some research, choose your favourite, your preferred or the one you think you can have the biggest impact in and go make an impact.
2) Select a cause that devotes it efforts and dollars to measureable action on the ground. A couple of key questions to ask might be “What demonstrable results have you achieved”? “What % of your fund-raising goes into activities such as administration and accommodation”?
3) Accept Responsibility. Others are not going to be able to all that is needed. If only a couple of million more people around the world started to become active and accept responsibility for what is going on, a huge difference could be made. It can no longer be left up to those already in the game because they are swamped. Everyone needs to start contributing. If the state of the world itself is the end-game here, we will never find a greater motivation to become involved.
4) Get some skin in the game. Not all environmental issues will “float your boat” so find something that you have an interest in and concentrate your efforts there. It could be climate, the preservation of a certain animal you are fond of, fund raising for favored issues, raising awareness of key issues or even a local issue around planning – it really doesn’t matter – just get involved. Do what you are comfortable doing and enjoy doing it. Personally, I like the idea of saving the Asian Elephant from extinction so that is the field I have become involved in without any prior insight or knowledge about elephants. We are all part of the problem – that is the problem! We need to become part of the solution too.
5) Don’t to it alone. Seek out like minded people who are willing to give something a try and do it together. Rope in friends. Tasks are easier when shared and conducted in a cohort. Most importantly involve your children, they have more skin in the game than any of us.
6) Meet regularly. Momentum is important, meet, discuss and get to know your issue and put some thinking into it. Turn your meetings into a social event. Talk to experts and get their advice. Don’t make it onerous, make it a pleasure.
7) Design and Do Things. Unless we move to action we are wasting our time. No matter what area you wish to focus on, put lots of small actions in place. Trial different things, it doesn’t matter if they don’t work because you learn from the failure and that informs your subsequent efforts. Try not to reinvent the wheel. Your time, and that of your colleagues is precious, so try new things and break new ground. Others are drawn to action and people are influenced positively when they see momentum.
8) Collaborate & Share. There will be other groups working in similar areas – Don’t compete with them, work with them or at least in parallel with them. Maybe even encourage like minded organisations to join together – don’t be precious about “ownership.” Ideally we should have many small groups slowly coalescing into larger more influential ones. The environmental space is littered with groups working on the same issues yet competing against one another for scarce dollars. The end result is many disparate and uncooperative groups with insufficient influence to do anything meaningful. Work out who else is in the space and work with them wherever possible.
9) See what happens. There is no way of knowing how your efforts will impact on the bigger picture. You don’t have to be an expert. Small things can make a big difference and you may surprise yourselves. You may not save the world or even a single species in the space of a few meetings and projects, but the benefits of involvement can be many-fold.
It’s time for everyone to become more active, step away from the keyboards and start doing something tangible about the state of the world. If we don’t, no one is going to do it for us. If suddenly however we have another few million activists there is no telling what might be achieved.
What is your skin in the game?