Environmental Activism and the Internet

By Kutner, Laurie A. | Electronic Green Journal, January 1, 2000 | Go to article overview

Environmental Activism and the Internet


Kutner, Laurie A., Electronic Green Journal


Abstract:

This paper examines the impact and potential of Internet-based technologies in the performance of important information and communication functions of grassroots environmental organizations. Anecdotally, it is clear that Internetbased technologies have enabled grassroots, locally-based environmental organizations to expand their abilities to access, use, create and disseminate information, and have served to empower marginalized segments of the population. However, there has not been any focused, empirical research to date to support these assertions. The current state of grassroots environmentalism and uses of the Internet by grassroots environmental organizations are reviewed and frameworks for further understanding the transformational impact of the Internet for grassroots activist organizations are presented. This paper ultimately serves as a call for systematic, empirical research to further understand the role of the Internet in the information functions of the grassroots-based environmental justice movement.

Introduction:

Environmental activist groups are successfully using the Internet and electronic communication technologies as mechanisms through which to access, use, create, and disseminate information. Internet-based technologies are impacting the information functions of grassroots activist movements as groups develop voices that expand their traditional social, political, and geographic boundaries. The intent of this paper is to examine the Internet as a communication and information dissemination tool for grassroots environmental activists, and to provide a review of the related literature, raise questions and issues for further study, and discuss frameworks for analysis of the Internet as an important tool through which grassroots environmental activists work toward social change. Although this discussion focuses on use of the Internet by grassroots environmental organizations, the points raised here apply to all grassroots movements for social change.

Citizen movements and information:

Historically, citizen movements have been formed as responses to the perceived lack of accountability by existing power structures in dealing with specific issues that the citizenry deems important. In challenging the status quo, the collecting and disseminating of information in support of the citizen group's cause becomes its important and central function. Henderson (1974, p.34) suggests, "the rise of new participatory citizen movements for consumer and environmental protection, peace and social justice are grounded in an almost intuitive understanding of the persuasive power of information." According to Henderson, new or restructured information is very powerful and can create changes, challenge assumptions, and strengthen citizen power.

Citizen activist groups with a limited resource base wishing to disseminate information espousing alternative viewpoints have had limited access and ability to utilize the mass media. Traditional mechanisms for disseminating information have included the telephone, mass mailings and rallies. With Internet-based technologies, citizen groups are able to get their messages out more quickly to larger numbers of individuals who are more geographically dispersed than was previously possible. Because of a lack of resources and the marginalized nature and small size of such groups, these groups are particularly well suited to productive use of the Internet.

Pierce, Steger, Steel, and Lourich (1992) assert that environmental activist groups recognize the central importance of their information gathering and dissemination roles. The grassroots action-oriented environmental justice movement, which focuses on community-based struggles against environmental inequities in people of color and poor communities, has taken form in the 1990s. Rapid advances in Internet-based technologies have been a concurrent phenomenon. Because the environmental justice movement has risen alongside the proliferation of Internet and communication technologies, it holds great potential for case studies focusing on how grassroots environmental organizations use these technologies to advance their causes. …

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