Feb 18, 2016 by

Why Smartphones Are Enabling Better Environmental Justice Campaigns

Today we are more connected than ever before. The smartphones in our pockets are changing the way we interact with each other. Not only do these advanced devices keep us closely connected to our peers, smartphones are truly a game-changing tool that can be used to amplify our voices during times of peril or crisis. This is especially true when our communities are facing environmental justice issues.

Community Impact

Smartphones can be used to tell compelling visual stories. Kristin Moe, writing for Yes! Magazine, notes that one week after the West Virginia chemical spill in 2014, the governor announced that the water was safe for consumption. However, the water was still poisonous and left 300,000 residents without drinking water. Skeptical residents knew that the water was far from safe and clean, and shortly after this event, a citizen network was organized. Moe claims that the information posted by community members through this network was more helpful to residents than the official government website that was set up for the crisis. Members of the group also shared their story with the world, and each other, via smartphones. From sharing photos of neighbors helping each other to coordinating water deliveries, the humble smartphone became an essential tool during this time of crisis.

Media Alternative

Additionally, having a smartphone when the media is not present allows regular citizens to share what’s happening where they are in real time. Whether the media can’t or won’t cover a story, citizen journalists are beginning to capture video and photos of the injustices around their communities. For example, in 2013, when the Pegasus pipeline ruptured in Arkansas, Exxon Mobil restricted media access and information was tightly covered. However, with the absence of the mainstream media, residents documented the damage caused by the ruptured pipeline. They also shared information with activists that led to the creation of a network, which was similar to the citizen network in West Virginia.

Real-Life Data

Habitat Maps, an environmental justice campaign which formed in 2006, is using smartphones in a more advanced way. In 2011, the environmental change makers released an Android app called AirCasting that uses the microphone from the smartphone to measure noise pollution. Now, Habitat Maps has taken its idea to fight air pollution steps further, with the creation of the Air Beam. This is an affordable air quality sensor, which measures air particulates, temperature and humidity levels. The leaders at Habitat Maps hope that its air quality sensors and the data they gather will be used to make big changes to government policies.

In Closing: Smartphones, Community and Beyond

Residents don’t have to have expensive camera equipment to take a stand against environmental injustice. Devices like the iPhone 6s Plus, with its powerful camera and impeccable audio system, can keep citizens connected during periods of environmental crisis. While smartphones are valuable tools, we must remember that our neighbors and communities are just as important during these perilous times. By working together, supporting one another and documenting it all with a smartphone, regular citizens can potentially make a big impact that enables change in policy.

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