I recently gave a research talk at UTSA as part of the Department of Communication’s Research Colloquium. The talk was called “Climate change activism: History, synthesis, analysis” and was based on three publications I’ve put out this year: two articles for the Oxford Research Encyclopedia on Climate Change Communication — one about Internet-enabled activism, for which I was the lead author (with Jill Hopke), and another about fossil fuel divestment, for which I was a co-author with Jill — and a book chapter for Environmental Policy, for which I was the lead author with Matt Nisbet. My thanks to Peter Bella for recording the talk.
Yesterday I published an op-ed in the Austin American Statesman about how Texans (and really, all Americans) can help Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. Here is the op-ed in full:
Just a few weeks after millions of Americans in Houston and surrounding areas suffered the onslaught of Hurricane Harvey, another large community of American citizens is suffering the effects of yet another devastating storm.
Hurricane Maria has left Puerto Rico, the island home of 3.5 million American citizens, utterly devastated. Nearly all the island’s electrical grid is down, along with 40 percent of the water service and 93 percent of cell towers. Fuel for vehicles is scarce, and thousands line up outside gas stations for days hoping to fill their tanks.
Despite President Trump’s comments today comparing Maria’s death toll on the island to Katrina’s on the mainland in 2005, Puerto Rico is experiencing a true catastrophe. The storm left so much debris on the ground that entire towns are still inaccessible by land. Puerto Rico had not seen this kind of devastation from a hurricane in almost a century.
As Puerto Ricans suffer under the sweltering tropical heat — with no air conditioning or even shade from trees — the death toll continues to climb due to the lack of electricity and other basic necessities. Insulin goes uncooled. Dialysis machines go unused. Incubators and ventilators fail. Many slip through the cracks because of lack of access to timely health care. Children and the elderly — especially those whose homes have been utterly destroyed — are particularly vulnerable now.
The local government has been doing everything in its power to help its citizens through this crisis — but it’s not enough. The Puerto Rican government is hampered by a 10-year long economic and financial crisis and its effects on the government’s ability to cope with this emergency. In short, massive assistance from the mainland is badly needed — especially from the federal government.
This means, among other things, that Puerto Rico needs Congress to pass a supplemental spending bill that includes several key elements: immediate emergency relief; infrastructure repair funds; investment in revamping the island’s outdated electrical grid; lifting the Medicaid cap and other funding limits on federal health programs; and economic development tools that allow for a speedier recovery. Congress recently did something similar for Texas and Florida, so there’s no reason why it can’t do the same for the millions of American citizens in Puerto Rico who desperately need this help. Texans could help Puerto Rico immensely by contacting their representatives in Congress and advocating for a robust aid package for the island.
President Trump took a step in the right direction by waiving the Jones Act, an anachronistic law that requires all shipping to and from Puerto Rico to occur on U.S. ships with U.S. crews. The downside: He only waived the law for 10 days. Most ships can take a week to get to Puerto Rico, so this waiver clearly isn’t enough. The president must waive this outdated law for at least a year and seriously consider striking it altogether because it raises the cost of living for Puerto Ricans more than they can bear after the onslaught of Hurricane Maria. The president needs to hear from Texans about this and other measures that would help Puerto Rico.
Finally, Puerto Ricans need their fellow American citizens in Texas and the rest of the country to continue donating generously to ease the crisis. Despite the ongoing recovery efforts in Houston, untold numbers of Texans have already opened their hearts and wallets to help the island in its moment of need. Puerto Ricans have served valiantly in every U.S. conflict since World War I — and whether they live on the island or the mainland, they contribute to American society in innumerable ways. Now, they need their fellow American citizens to come to their aid in their moment of greatest need. If history is any guide, Texans won’t let them down.
Today Dr. Jill Hopke of DePaul University and I published another article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Climate Change Communication, edited by Dr. Matthew Nisbet of Northeastern University. The article is titled Internet-Enabled Activism and Climate Change, and is available free online for a short period of time. The article is part of what will ultimately be the most comprehensive source of review articles about climate change communication available anywhere. A selection of articles will also be published as a book; both articles co-authored by Jill and I will appear in the printed version. Here’s the abstract for this article:
The past two decades have transformed how interest groups, social movement organizations, and individuals engage in collective action. Meanwhile, the climate change advocacy landscape, previously dominated by well-established environmental organizations, now accommodates new ones focused exclusively on this issue. What binds these closely related trends is the rapid diffusion of communication technologies like the internet and portable devices such as smartphones and tablets. Before the diffusion of digital and mobile technologies, collective action, whether channeled through interest groups or social movement organizations, consisted of amassing and expending resources—money, staff, time, etc.—on behalf of a cause via top-down organizations. These resource expenditures often took the form of elite persuasion: media outreach, policy and scientific expertise, legal action, and lobbying.
But broad diffusion of digital technologies has enabled alternatives to this model to flourish. In some cases, digital communication technologies have simply made the collective action process faster and more cost-effective for organizations; in other cases, these same technologies now allow individuals to eschew traditional advocacy groups and instead rely on digital platforms to self-organize. New political organizations have also emerged whose scope and influence would not be possible without digital technologies. Journalism has also felt the impact of technological diffusion. Within networked environments, digital news platforms are reconfiguring traditional news production, giving rise to new paradigms of journalism. At the same time, climate change and related issues are increasingly becoming the backdrop to news stories on topics as varied as politics and international relations, science and the environment, economics and inequality, and popular culture.
Digital communication technologies have significantly reduced the barriers for collective action—a trend that in many cases has meant a reduced role for traditional brick-and-mortar advocacy organizations and their preferred strategies. This trend is already changing the types of advocacy efforts that reach decision-makers, which may help determine the policies that they are willing to consider and adopt on a range of issues—including climate change. In short, widespread adoption of digital media has fueled broad changes in both collective action and climate change advocacy. Examples of advocacy organizations and campaigns that embody this trend include 350.org, the Climate Reality Project, and the Guardian’s “Keep It in the Ground” campaign. 350.org was co-founded in 2007 by environmentalist and author Bill McKibben and several of his former students from Middlebury College in Vermont. The Climate Reality project was founded under another name by former U.S. Vice President and Nobel Prize winner Al Gore. The Guardian’s “Keep It in the Ground” fossil fuel divestment campaign, which is a partnership with 350.org and its Go Fossil Free Campaign, was launched in March 2015 at the behest of outgoing editor-in-chief Alan Rusbridger.
Dr. Hopke and I have another article in the Oxford Encyclopedia about fossil fuel divestment and climate communication.