#StopWillow: How TikTokers are tackling climate change | Activism

Climate activists who tried to stop the ConocoPhillips project, a proposed multi-billion dollar drilling project in Alaska, have struggled for years to attract attention to their cause.

But as the Biden administration prepares to make the final decision on the controversial bill, “Willow” has become a trend on TikTok. At the beginning of Tuesday, the hashtags #StopWillow and #StopTheWillowProject reached 148 million and 150 million views, respectively, on the app.

“I’ve never seen so many videos, comments and mentions of a climate topic on social media,” said Alaina Wood, a 26-year-old scientist and climate activist with more than 353,500 followers on TikTok.

The Willow project is ConocoPhillips’ $6 billion proposal to drill for oil and gas in Alaska, located within the National Petroleum Reserve, an area of ​​23 million acres (93 million hectares).

the uproar online around Willow is likely, in part, due to the approaching Biden administration decision deadline. The decision could come as early as this week.

Students and community members demand President Biden stop Project Willow, with a banner on the Ellipse outside the White House, on December 2, 2022, in Washington, DC

Paul Morigi/Getty Images

profit and loss

The argument of those who propose this project is that it would create thousands of jobs and be a source of income for Alaska natives. However, critics believe that approving the Willow project goes against President Biden’s promise to end new oil drilling on federal lands, and that approving new drilling would lead to significant climate impacts.

One recent environmental analysis, conducted by the Biden administration, estimated that the project would generate about 9.2 million metric tons of carbon dioxide carbon per year, the equivalent of driving almost 2 million cars on gas.

Activists and experts say the wave of posts on Tiktok related to Willow sends a clear message to politicians: young people, an important part of voters, care deeply about climate issues and are willing to make their position clear.

Since the #StopWillow movement gained prominence on social media, activists say more than a million letters have been sent to the White House and that a petition online collected 2.9 million signatures and another one in progress has more than 850 thousand.

The White House did not respond to a Washington Post request for comment on Monday.

“These are not environmental groups,” said Elise Joshi, a 20-year-old student at the University of California at Berkeley and executive director of the nonprofit organization Gen-Z for Change. Joshi, who has more than 122,500 followers on TikTok, and who posted one of the first videos on the platform to draw attention to the Willow project, in early February. Since then, the video has been viewed around 327,000 times.

“This is young people as a whole, as a constituency, taking action” for a sustainable future, continued Joshi. “This is one of the biggest moves moving forward on TikTok. It has shown that we are willing to fight.”

Is Willow a Symptom of Weather Anxiety?

Campaigns online dedicated to climate change and environmental issues are nothing new, according to Dana R.Fisher, a professor of sociology at the University of Maryland who studies activist movements. But while the Willow videos on TikTok might seem like content similar to other climate topics, “it’s very different in terms of engagement,” said Dana Fisher, who has been following the movement.

There may be a variety of factors contributing to interest in the Willow project on social media, particularly among young people. the activity online it could be “a manifestation of your climate anxiety,” says Wood.

“This event is a very concrete example of that, ‘climate change is absolutely terrifying, and I have to do something’, something along those lines,” she said.

the misinformation online about the extent to which the Willow project would affect efforts to fight climate change has only fueled people’s concern, says Wood, adding that he has been sharing content on TikTok in an attempt to reassure viewers who think climate change will be “irreversible if this is approved, which is not true”.

Young people may also be motivated to act because they believe they are capable of influencing a president who wants to be seen as “a champion of climate”, says Joshi.

People must believe that “there is an opportunity to stop this if we raise our voices and act as a collective”, he added. “There really is a chance here.”

Climate activists gather to ask President Biden to stop Project Willow, with a banner in Lafayette Square, in front of the White House, on January 10, 2023, in Washington
Celal Gunes/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

The power of publishing a video

However, the question remains whether the largely organic social media movement sweeping TikTok right now can have long-term impacts, Fisher said.

“It’s not a matter of not having the political capacity,” Fisher said. “It’s just a matter of realizing to what extent this type of mobilization has the power and capacity to sustain itself for a long time.” “True political engagement,” she noted, “involves more than clicking on something and posting a video.”

Other people who have posted online about Willow, how Alaina Wood, are concerned that their efforts may not be enough to stop the project.

“I’m still worried that the decision has already been made and that all of this doesn’t matter much anymore,” Wood said. “But I hope that if we continue the public pressure throughout the week, there is still a chance. I am cautiously optimistic.”

But, says Dana Fisher, the White House is likely paying attention to the media discourse surrounding the project. “The Biden administration has been very attentive to young people and their opinions, and they seem to nurture influencers in a way that I’ve never seen before”, he says. number of messages.”

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