Friday, December 8, 2023

Professor studies evolution of climate change activism

Professor studies evolution of climate change activism

(Nov. 20, 2017) -- Climate change is a topic that is debated, doubted and covered by news outlets across the world. Luis Hestres, in the Department of Communication at The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA), is researching the evolution of climate change activism and how advocacy groups use digital platforms to mobilize.

Hestres and Jill Hopke, assistant professor at DePaul University, co-authored “Internet-Enabled Activism and Climate Change,” which was recently published in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia on Climate Change Communication. In the article, the collaborators describe how the landscape for climate change advocacy has transformed due to technology.

“In some cases, digital communication technologies have simply made the collective action process faster and more cost-effective for organizations,” said Hestres. “Groups are using digital platforms to self-organize and expand their reach.”

Hestres said digital communication technologies make it easier for members to connect remotely and reduces the role for traditional methods of collective action, like face-to-face meetings.

The UTSA researcher says the shift in collective action and climate change advocacy began in the mid-to-late 2000s with, the Climate Reality Project and the “Keep It in the Ground” campaign, which depended on the Internet and other digital platforms to gain traction.

Created in 2007, activists and journalists started, its most successful campaign aimed to block the approval of the Keystone XL Pipeline project. After protests, writing letters to senators and other online efforts, President Obama rejected the permit to build the pipeline in 2015. 

Part of’s success is its effective use of online tools to spur action at its rallies and events, says Hestres. For example, following the 2016 U.S. presidential election, the organization rallied supporters to challenge President Donald Trump’s support for fossil fuels and to fight against fossil fuel infrastructure. In April 2017, lead its second People’s Climate March, the first being in 2014, and used social media to mobilize supporters.

The non-profit organization, Climate Reality Project, was established in 2011 after the joining of two environmental groups founded in 2006 by former U.S. Vice President Al Gore. Climate Reality Project uses online advertising to drive messages related to its anti-fossil fuel and climate change activism efforts. Its website is used to recruit volunteers for its Climate Reality Volunteer Corps. Since its establishment, Climate Reality Project has trained nearly 8,000 people from more than 120 countries who deliver presentations around the world about the effects of climate change and ways to combat it.

The third example, the “Keep It in the Ground” fossil fuel divestment campaign, was launched in March 2015 by British newspaper The Guardian to “keep fossil fuels where they belong: in the ground” to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. In 2015, the publication partnered with to work on a digital campaign to recruit supporters passionate about its mission to urge governments around the globe to take action on climate change. In its first six months, the campaign received support from more than 226,000 online petitioners.

“Activists are trying to figure out how to be more effective while using social media in an era when photos and videos are more important than ever,” said Hestres. “This trend is already changing the types of advocacy efforts reaching decision makers. That in turn may impact the policies they are willing to consider and adopt on issues related to climate change.”

Hestres plans to expand on his research by studying the types of audio and visual communications used by activists as well as the effectiveness of their digital strategies during Donald Trump’s presidency in the United States.

He predicts climate change advocacy campaigns will continue to navigate changes to the digital media landscape and will most likely continue utilizing heavily visual media to promote their advocacy efforts supporting polices to respond to climate change.

Hestres studies the intersections of digital communication technologies, political communication and mobilization, Internet freedom and governance and social change. His research has informed the advocacy and social media and digital media production courses he teaches for the UTSA Department of Communication, which prepares students for careers in digital communication, public relations and related fields.

UTSA is ranked among the nation’s top four young universities, according to Times Higher Education.

Kara Soria

Learn more about Luis Hestres.

Learn more about UTSA Department of Communication.

Learn more about UTSA College of Liberal and Fine Arts.

Connect with UTSA online at Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram and LinkedIn.

UTSA Today is produced by University Communications and Marketing, the official news source of The University of Texas at San Antonio. Send your feedback to Keep up-to-date on UTSA news by visiting UTSA Today. Connect with UTSA online at Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and Instagram.




University of Texas at San Antonio receives ‘transformational’ $40M gift

UTSA’s Mission

The University of Texas at San Antonio is dedicated to the advancement of knowledge through research and discovery, teaching and learning, community engagement and public service. As an institution of access and excellence, UTSA embraces multicultural traditions and serves as a center for intellectual and creative resources as well as a catalyst for socioeconomic development and the commercialization of intellectual property - for Texas, the nation and the world.

UTSA’s Vision

To be a premier public research university, providing access to educational excellence and preparing citizen leaders for the global environment.

UTSA’s Core Values

We encourage an environment of dialogue and discovery, where integrity, excellence, inclusiveness, respect, collaboration and innovation are fostered.

UTSA’S Destinations

UTSA is a proud Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI) as designated by the U.S. Department of Education .

Our Commitment to Inclusivity

The University of Texas at San Antonio, a Hispanic Serving Institution situated in a global city that has been a crossroads of peoples and cultures for centuries, values diversity and inclusion in all aspects of university life. As an institution expressly founded to advance the education of Mexican Americans and other underserved communities, our university is committed to promoting access for all. UTSA, a premier public research university, fosters academic excellence through a community of dialogue, discovery and innovation that embraces the uniqueness of each voice.