In 2020, during former President Donald Trump’s administration, ConocoPhillips first proposed the Willow Project: a project that would construct five drilling pads in Alaska; this plan lay unnoticed until 2023, when outrage finally sparked. Specifically on TikTok, a large number of users started to post videos about the drilling project. With one video fanning the flames of another, the controversy quickly gained popularity, culminating into a petition signed by 4.7 million people and counting. But, despite these efforts, on March 13, Joe Biden approved the Willow Project, against public sentiment.
While further public outrage followed this decision, efforts on social media did not seem to be forthcoming. After the petition did not achieve its intended result, much of the original enthusiasm for activism disappeared. But, in the larger perspective of climate action, failure to prevent environmental harm in one place does not necessarily spell doom for the entire world. There are still initiatives to be taken elsewhere, systemic change requiring long term, sustained effort on every facet of an issue. However, presented on social media, large social issues like environmental protection are reduced to just the Willow Project, the public’s attention narrowed down by the platform. When Biden signed the project, many failed to see that the scales had only shifted rather than tipped over. As quickly as social media is able to garner a following, it loses it, creating climate supporters with short term memory.
This is not to completely undermine the power of social media in the face of activism. TikTok, among other apps, did help raise awareness for the Willow Project, but it did so in isolation from the greater discussion of climate action. Social media garners helpful but temporary support for issues like the Willow Project. It does not create the impactful, long term engagement needed for ambitious projects like the climate. For substantial, meaningful change, we need a different mindset. Instead of relying on just TikTok or Instagram for information, we should be seeking out our own resources and conducting our own research beyond the original post to build a broader holistic understanding of the situation.
Just as global issues extend to our campus, Andover students also need to take these steps to educate themselves and maintain motivation to seek out more perspectives, beyond the few TikTok videos on our For-You-Page. Divest Andover, a Phillips Academy Sustainability Coalition club that faced setbacks in reaching their goal of fossil fuel divestment, continues to work regardless, doing whatever work that can be done. A great deal can change on campus over four years and one term will not determine the outcome of a project. Don’t be afraid of pursuing what you believe in. If there is change that you want to see on campus, start early and hand it off to the underclassmen when you leave.
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