I’ve been waiting for some kind of social network or web movement that would galvanize people around sustainability and green. Is the intersection between extreme weather and digital media the spark that could help deliver that green web movement?


Ever since GigaOM launched a focus on greentech about four years ago, I’ve been waiting for some kind of social network or web movement to emerge that can effectively galvanize people around either green policies, the use of green technology or more sustainable lifestyles. So, now I’m wondering if the spark that could help deliver that green web movement is extreme weather.

Think about it: The catalyst to spur a social movement needs to fundamentally affect people on a core level. Who hasn’t been touched directly by the unusually hot or cold weather in 2010 and 2011 or been affected both directly and indirectly by the weather disasters that have struck the planet in the past 18 months, from hurricanes to floods to blizzards? Even if people don’t have first-hand experience with these disasters, the influx of photos, videos and news stories (available 24/7 on the web) of people dying or losing their property in extreme weather events is, to put it callously, a persuasive factor.

Now yes, the jury isn’t completely out that the extreme weather of 2010 — which is looking to be the most extreme on record — is completely the fault of human-induced climate change and that the weather trend won’t go up and down over various years. But it’s generally thought by scientists that such extreme weather couldn’t likely be happening without the influence of human-caused climate change.

So assuming the connection between human-induced climate change and extreme weather becomes even more concretely linked scientifically, it then becomes the job of digital online media — and social sharing — to show the connection (and, yes, journalists have a role here, too). The environmental group 350.org, which was founded in 2008 by activist Bill McKibben, 350.org has been pushing this exact movement forward, using social media, viral videos (see video below), and user-generated content to show the link.

Stephen Thomson, of Plomomedia.com, edited and narrated the video above, and the content is a reading of a sarcastic op-ed that McKibben wrote for the Washington Post . Yet, the video isn’t exactly viral (yet) in the same way as a funny cat video, or Y U No Guy; it’s got around 100,000 views on YouTube. The numbers need to grow into the millions at least to start making a dent. If you have any thoughts on what can deliver this tipping point, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

I know that web social movements often grow out of something inspiring, like how Obama used the web to energize his constituents and score the White House. Inventor Saul Griffith wants the future to sound awesome so it will inspire the next-generation of energy-focused scientists and inventors. But fear, guilt, and shame are powerful emotions, too, particularly when the fundamental issue is one of a possible planetary disaster.

Image courtesy of NASA Goddard Photo and Video.

  1. ummm………. the global sea & land temperatures are falling, so are the sea levels, polar bear populations are increasing, antarctic ice is steadily increasing, and storms floods and cyclones also decreased in the past 10 years.

    Katie you really need to do a bit of unbiased research.

    The weather only seems extreme to you, because your a bit of a dill, extreme weather has always been with us, check the records and stop talking crap

  2. John Johnston Thursday, July 7, 2011

    My feeling is that, although it could increasingly be the case that more people start to “get it” with all the extreme weather events, including floods and droughts, over the coming years. However, people still need to focus on something positive and fun: hope.

    Perhaps it will be a combination of calling increasingly loudly for action on climate change (including hitting the streets for protests), together with a galvanizing focus on clean energy and sustainability initiatives that can be fun.

    Time will tell. As you say, it need to be millions and millions of people, in many countries.

  3. Katie Fehrenbacher Thursday, July 7, 2011

    @sunspot, ummm…..that’s just not true.

  4. Katie Fehrenbacher Thursday, July 7, 2011

    @John Johnston, Agreed on the need for hope!

  5. “needs to fundamentally AFFECT people” #corrections

    As for the point of the article, I’m a believer the more extreme weather theory (as ought to be the case, when you put more energy into a system), but I’d be pretty nervous about starting a movement before there was a lot of science to back it up.

  6. Marc Ferguson Thursday, July 7, 2011


    The unfortunate truth is that there are the horribly misinformed (like sunspot, how ironic is that name by the way), the intentionally deceitful (Koch Brothers and many, many others, including Fox and Rupert Murdoch (can you say WSJ)), and those who lack the courage of their convictions.

    I for one hope we can turn the tide through e-media. But it is an incredible strong current, and to mix metaphors, not a level playing field.

    Best of luck to us.

    Marc Ferguson

  7. Katie, This is good. I forwarded to my smart friends. – bill

  8. @sunspot ummm…… You are a troll.

  9. >>> Katie, This is good. I forwarded to my smart friends. – bill <<<

    Hmmm- "smart" friends? Maybe not so much.

    See this:

    "A draft study produced by researchers at Yale University and four other research institutions has arrived at a surprising (to them) finding: The more that people are scientifically literate, and the more that they’re numerate, the likelier that they’ll be climate change skeptics."


    Study draft is here:


    1. JoeP
      Interesting angle. However, the interpretation of the study is misleading.
      The study did not ask people if they believed in climate change — it asked them whether they think it is a serious risk. Big difference, because someone has to first acknowledge a concept (like climate change) before they’ll assign it a high risk…

      The excerpt makes it sound like the main point of the study is that “The more that people are scientifically literate, and the more that they’re numerate, the likelier that they’ll be climate change skeptics”. In fact, the study highlights a stronger correlation: “differences in our respondents’ cultural values had a bigger effect on perception of climate-change risks than did differences in their degrees of either science literacy or numeracy”.
      Unfortunately, humans being humans, cultural values will affect whether they’ll accept a concept, and it further affects what quantitative importance (risk) they attach to it.

  10. Ramon H Leigh Sunday, July 10, 2011

    After going thru the literature on global warming arguments, pro and con, I see that generally there is total agreement on the increase expected as a result of doubling greenhouse gases – that turns out to be 1 degree F. In that case, no one has any reason to get excited or worried. All the dispute revolves around the issue of climate sentivity, which depends up net positive or negative feedback over all systems. However, there are more than a few who
    are examining data which very strongly suggests that geo temperatures are not totally dependent upon greenhouse gases. Variations in solar activity, and particularly sunspot activity, whose minimization periods in the past corresponded to extreme cooling conditions that cannot be explained by greenhouse effects are just some of the natural phenomena examined. Pacific ocean current cycles seem to explain very well what greenhouse gas concentration levels cannot : the variation in temps in the US northern latitiudes.
    The biggest lie floating around has come from those who seem utterly convinced that greenshouse gas tells the whole story AND that net effects of increase has a positive feedback value AND that the positive value is large and therefore danger lies ahead
    AND that the science is settled. Friends and countrymen and all you who do not have multiple graduate degrees in science, there is no such thing as a “settled scientific discipline” never has been and the philosophy of science guys would no doubt argue that it is impossible to ever achieve such a thing. I agree with that statement – regardless of what you think you know, since we know that it is impossible to “prove” with certainty that what you believe to be correct, one has to assume it impossible to ever make a statement such as declaring a science “settled.” Certainly we do not have any science that anyone can declare “settled” at the moment. So global warming true believers, knock off the “the question is settled” crap. It ain’t, dum-dum.

    1. Ramon,
      A lot of people aren’t waiting for all issues to be settled. Life is not like a CSI show where all the details always show up neatly.
      I suppose one could tell their grandkids “No, grandpa didn’t want to do anything to help out until everything was settled. I felt more comfortable with an unsafe assumption. I also didn’t want to help because problems weren’t ALL caused by human activity. Sorry kids, you’re on your own, it’s your problem now”.

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