I read an opinion column today in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette about the state of the world discussed at Rio+20, in terms of carbon emissions, climate change, and sustainable development. The author, Jeffrey D. Sachs, and those at the United Nations Conference, call for an end to extreme poverty, less carbon emission from the energy system, slower population growth, sustainable food supplies, and protection of the environment. But those of you reading this, who probably have at least six other tabs open on your screen, switching from Facebook to Pinterest, updating Twitter on your phone, while texting your friend, are probably nodding your head in agreement, thinking yes, it’s probably a good idea to save the world, yet how many of you got up to turn a light off? How many of you have the TV on while you’re on your laptop, reading blogs and updating social media, obviously not even watching the TV? I admit, I have the TV on. I like having the Today Show on in the background of my morning and if something interesting stands out, I turn my attention to the television.
This is the reality of the world today. People are perpetually connected and plugged in and so immersed in their personal lives and the virtual lives of their friends. People would rather “pin” a link to their dream wedding dress and tell hundreds of Twitter users that the line in Starbucks today is incredibly long than shut off their technology and plant trees. I’m not saying that all people are like this, but this is our reality.
On the other hand, our reality is also high carbon emissions and global warming that eventually will destroy the planet. This is what scientists tell us, but so many people don’t believe it or don’t want to believe it. These claims seem extreme. People just aren’t motivated to look outside their own neighborhoods. We say we want what’s best for our children and no one can deny that. But our ability to look far ahead, hundreds or thousands of years is limited. We see the reality that is right now and right now the sun is shining, the grass is growing, the birds flit around the backyard. Right now the kids have enough to eat and go to great public schools. Right now, I can’t afford a new energy-efficient vehicle, but that’s okay because there’s enough gas in my car, and GetGo and Giant Eagle are helping me save a few cents at the pump. The concern about overpopulation, famine and disease in third world countries doesn’t hit home because, well, we can’t see them. All we see are the sad, slow-mo advertisements on TV telling us to donate just 25 cents a day, but everyone thinks those are over-exaggerated to draw a few more quarters from the crowd.
So what can be done?
If we can’t get everyone to agree on the current state, how can we possibly expect people to agree on the measures that must be taken?
So many people are calling for action from the younger generations. The recent college graduates, like myself, and the students. Treaties and “Sustainable Development Goals,” while great in theory, won’t work unless the information and the impact somehow resonates with the young, tech-savvy, Facebook-stalking, status-updating crowd. So how do we make it resonate? As a communication major, passionate about media, TV, video production, I am a firm believer that media can reach people in ways that newspaper articles and politicians can’t. The only problem is that even media may not always work. You might remember the KONY2012 video that almost instantly went viral with almost 1 billion viewers on YouTube. This video resonated with me and probably hundreds of thousands of others. But it did not resonate with everyone. The video was a big topic of discussion in my college media and politics class and it is up for debate why this video was such an instant hit and then almost just as quickly fell from the spotlight. I’m sure it motivated some people to buy the bracelets and post signs and this kind of enthusiasm is what we need to save the world, all the time. (But that’s another topic.)
So when you think about how to reach the audience, the young internet generation, a YouTube video might work. Or a Facebook page, or a Twitter account, or a blog post. A story on the 6 o’clock news might work, or the endorsement of pro athletes and celebrities. But really, it’s going to be all of that and more. The world won’t change just because someone writes a blog post, or a newspaper column. It won’t change if someone makes the most creative 30-minute YouTube video of the year. It won’t change if politicians put it to a vote. In Sachs’ article he writes, “Since politicians follow public opinion rather than lead it, it must be the public itself that demands its own survival, not elected officials who are somehow supposed to save us despite ourselves.” The public will only demand change if we all agree. The whole world needs to agree. We will only all agree if we are inundated with the information, if we are convinced through all outlets that this is the change we need to see.
We see evidence every day of technology becoming better and people wanting to use it. Take Apple. They could come out with a new, faster, better product every month (oh wait, they do…) and people buy it and use it and promote it. People want better things, they want to be on the edge of innovation. We wouldn’t have students majoring in engineering and science if this wasn’t true. We just need the motivation to convince the world that sustainability is what’s better. That energy-efficiency is what’s better. That everyone’s lives will be better if we all adopt this world-saving technology and practices. I hope that this blog post will add to the global conversation. Hopefully others will continue to flood all media with the facts and someday soon, maybe we’ll all agree.