Social Media Used to Challenge Causes of Climate Change in Malaysia

Social media and the online world can quickly connect like-minded people from all distant regions of the planet, and this property can be harnessed to fight the causes of climate change. Few problems are more worldwide in scale than climate change. Climate activists have been quick to embrace online organizing as a way to rapidly make local or regional initiatives, like the fight to stop a major coal plant, go global.

With many companies and government entities establishing a presence on Facebook and Twitter, anyone with access to the Internet can now interact with important decision makers in a public forum. At the same time online petitions can quickly unite thousands of voices online for a common cause. The effects of climate change threaten people ecosystems in every corner of the planet, and social media is serving to connect previously isolated communities just in time.

Many examples exist of how climate activists are already employing online social media to make change. But a notable recent manifestation centers on the Malaysian state of Sabah, on the island of Borneo. There, the Malaysian government is backing construction of a 300 megawatt coal plant that threatens the Borneo rainforest, nearby coral reefs, and local communities. The coal plant would of course also add to the causes of climate change in Malaysia, contributing to a wave of new coal plants being built in the developing world. At present, the Malaysian government plans to begin construction of the coal plant this summer. But online social media has allowed resistance to the project, which began at the local level, to suddenly bloom into a global initiative with potential to stop the plant from ever breaking ground.

This week, climate action groups like 350.org launched a global campaign to stop the Sabah coal plant, making use of Facebook, YouTube, and online petitions. A flashy YouTube video introduces the issue of the Sabah coal plant. The video captures the natural beauty of the Sabah region, and highlights how acid rain and other pollutants from the coal plant would threaten the rainforest and nearby coral reefs. An online petition(linked to at the end of the video) asks Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak to halt plans for construction of the coal plant, and has already accumulated more than a thousand signatures. Finally, 350.org also urges concerned citizens to visit Najib Razak’s Facebook page and leave him a wall post opposing the coal plant.

In addition to connecting individuals and communities over vast distances, the beauty of online social organizing is the speed with which a new initiative can grow. This is particularly important in cases where an outpouring of public involvement is needed within a very short time frame. The Sabah coal plant is an example, with only a couple of months remaining to stop the plant’s construction. Without recourse to online social media tools, responding on a worldwide scale to a climate change threat such as this would be almost online thinkable. Yet with appropriate use of online tools it isn’t just possible—it’s being done.

What's your opinion? Have organizations fighting the causes of climate change made the best possible use of social media in responding to the Sabah coal plant? Or are there other, additional online tools that could be usefully employed here?

Photo Credit: Flickr