Social media is accessible in most part of Africa through, laptops, mobile phones and tablets. Yet many still lack the much needed access to information on climate change and other environmental issue. Why? Lack of interest is certainly not one of it.

Previously we usually go out to look for information, like travel long distance to Internet café to use the internet and other facilities (that is when the electricity is available). Information now find us wherever we are; home, work or school through digital technology including new media. Many of us young people across Africa are very excited about this, as our ability to communicate with our peers has been enhanced especially for those of us that know how to use it. Social media has the power to change the way we access and use information, permitting us to bypass the gatekeepers – reporters, editors and government officials – who shape or control the press agenda. The Arab spring in 2010 – 11 revealed how social networks such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube revolutionized political communication in North Africa.

We are currently witnessing an unusual changing climate. It is affecting every aspect of our life, education, food, forced migration and security. Climate has changed on all time scales throughout Earth’s history. Some aspects of the current climate change are not unusual, but others are. Although climate change is a global issue, likewise its impacts, but the biting effects are felt more by poor and developing countries especially those in Africa due to low level of infrastructural development, awareness and coping capacities. But this can change, if people have access to correct information on adaption and holding their government accountable.

Let me share the Story of how we use social media for climate change and environmental education/awareness and advocacy. First we saw and acknowledged the presence of many young Nigerians on Facebook and twitter, engaging constantly and having great fun. Amidst the sound of the drum beat, we decided to throw in climate change information into their conversations, sharing where, what and when off line climate change education will or have taken place.

We came to realized that for those that are already interested in environmental issues, social media made it possible for them to be updated instantly on recent reports and environmental issues, such as 2012 flooding in Nigeria (#NGFloods), oil spill in the Niger Delta, etx, engaging their thoughts and allowing them to make their voice heard. During 2012 Floods that devastated many part of Nigeria, families were displaced, schools were destroyed, young people lost their means of livelihoods and other exisiting ‘manageable’ infrastructure such as roads, etc damaged thereby impacting children’s rights to education, as many of them are cut off from their schools or become refugees in refugee camps where there is no room for education. Peasant farmers had their own story to tell.

Rallying people together through active social media engagements (blogs, tweets) did put a tremendous amount of pressure on government as in the case of #savebagega (Lead Poisoning in Northern Nigeria) which resulted in the release of funds for the environmental remediation and full support to affected victims. Across Africa and In Nigeria in particular, we have seen increased participation of young people in governance, enhanced by access to smart mobile phones and innovative social media tools. We resolved to make climate change part of the process because we strongly believe that the first step of empowerment to solve the climate crisis is when people have access to correct information and education.

After first pioneering Climate change tweet-chat and debate, we have increase the momentum and have inspired many such engagements across board. Take for instance #ClimateWednesday, a weekly tweet-conversation aim at building climate smart generation across Africa. The main goal is to utilise the amazing change momentum of African youth using social media to begin to think about ecological governance and actions to help save our planet. The event is an outcome of global tweet debate: “Can Social Media Safe the Planet?” These conversations are backed up with offline activities that bring hope to many, inform, connect and empower young people to action.

Our ecological future is bleak and a bit scary and we are all responsible for it. It is time to use the available tools to our generation to make a difference. One will argue; are these tools inclusive and accessible to the very large population in sub-Saharan Africa? I will say, to an extend yes, the very large population can be empowered if we invest more in technology that allows for information sharing and capacity building and not forgetting, holding our government accountable.

Yours Sincerely,

Esther Agbarakwe

(Esther Agbarakwe, whom many of her friends in Nigeria call “estherclimate”, is a passionate development activist working on reproductive health & rights, environmental Justice, gender mainstreaming, youth development, and strategic advocacy on sustainable development. She tweets via @estherclimate)

Originally posted here

Photo Credit: Steve Goldner

blcompere OP-ED: This post reflects the opinions of the author and not necessarily those of blcompere as a publication.