In this article, I want to explain how Twitter can both follow a “free speech maximalist” ethos while having a very positive impact on not just climate change, but the future of the world in general. This article will focus on how this may affect climate change and clean technology adoption (for obvious reasons), but much of what I’m going to share here is more broadly applicable.
Climate shadows vs carbon footprints
I’ve mentioned this concept before in a few other posts, but to understand the positive effect Twitter could have on the global climate, it’s important to not think in terms of Twitter’s carbon footprint, but broader effects than that. he might have. I got the idea for this article from Microphone.
The best way to introduce this topic to a clean tech crowd would be to watch Elon Musk himself. Of course, he has an atrocious individual carbon footprint. He flies private jets. It launches rockets burning methane. The companies it owns and/or manages are responsible for many emissions. But, anyone not trying to score points against him has to acknowledge that Tesla had a big positive contribution to the problem. Tesla’s electric vehicles themselves have replaced many combustion engines, and the company’s solar + battery storage has had a big impact. But, even beyond that, Tesla’s shadow extends pushing entire industries in better directions.
The concept of “climate shadows” is to look at the big picture.
When it comes to Twitter, the opportunities for climate impact are much greater in the “shadow” than in the footprint. The carbon footprint not only of Twitter, but also of the most popular Twitter accounts, has been studied. Elon Musk’s account, for example, is estimated to emit the equivalent of 1.8 return flights from New York to Paris (3.2 tons) per year. But, his account was also used to promote Tesla, and could arguably be one of his main advertising and PR efforts (Tesla does not advertise or have a PR department).
But, it would be a true “apples to oranges” comparison to compare the impacts of Elon Musk’s account (120 million followers to date) to Donald Trump’s account (assuming he was actively tweeting to his 88 million subscribers). One of these accounts promotes electric cars and renewable energy, while the other (assuming it becomes active again) uses its fame to promote anti-EV conspiracy theories and political action against EVs. ‘clean energy.
Looking at the big picture, it’s obvious that Twitter’s actual impact on the climate is nearly impossible to quantify and calculate like Twitter’s carbon footprint would be. We should look at each account’s climate effects (positive or negative), the scope of the account, and then add it all up. Most of it just can’t be quantified to begin with.
But that doesn’t mean we can’t think about it. A qualitative analysis (looking at more than just numbers) would likely show that Twitter’s overall carbon shadow is heading in the wrong direction right now. Why? Because it’s suddenly popular with political conservatives, who were less engaged with it due to the platform’s systematic deletion before Elon Musk bought it. With increased conservative usage (doing things like Donald Trump would on Twitter) and reduced usage on the left (people who generally care more about climate change and think it’s real), the overall climate impact must move in a more negative direction. .
Don’t blame conservative Republicans for that. Blame the culture war.
That last paragraph probably sounded like I had a lot of disdain for conservatives. But, if you know me at all, you would know that I am not a liberal. While I disagree with a stereotypical conservative on issues like clean tech and LGBT rights, I’m also a gun owner and a “prepper,” not a “Fudd.” As an Independent and someone who doesn’t consistently side with Liberals or Conservatives, I don’t think this issue is something we can just be lazy about and throw everything in Conservative laps.
Just look at who has solar panels on their roofs, electric vehicles in their driveways, etc., it’s pretty clear that a lot of people don’t fit the stereotype. A fiscally responsible person might buy an electric and/or solar vehicle simply because it makes financial sense, regardless of the policy. A “preparer” can be better prepared for disasters if they can make their own electricity at home and use it for transportation. E-bikes are increasingly being used for hunting. Clean energy also reduces dependence on foreign oil.
So the idea that clean tech is only for liberals and conservatives have to drive a diesel brodozer and roll coal is silly and stupid if you really think about it.
But, on average, you’ll find that a lot of people follow the political herd they identify with, and it gets dumber and dumber. It has even gotten to the point where certain foods and drinks are only for one side or the other. A vanilla latte from Starbucks is a great example (especially if you make it with soy milk).
The issues with the Culture War would require a whole series of articles to adequately cover, but I won’t. Instead, I’ll send you to wait but why Our history series. It’s long, but it has great artwork and is definitely worth it if you care about the future of civilization.
This increasingly silly culture war is holding back the adoption of clean technologies. Of course, many people go against the trends and think this for themselves, but many other people choose vehicles and their home power (and backup power) based on political and cultural considerations at the instead of what would work best for their family or business.
Dumb? Yes. But the caveman in all of us knows there is safety in numbers, and staying with your tribe feels safer. It’s human nature, but made even dumber by the negative effects of an increasingly fractured social, media and social media environment.
But, if left unchecked, the culture war could turn into a literal war (and in some ways it is already happening). But we could avoid this outcome while preserving the many other things we care about (like the environment).
Twitter has the potential to disrupt the culture wars
It stands to reason that while social media can ignite our worst instincts and pit us against each other, it also has the potential ability to help bring people together and reduce drama and conflict. So with Twitter’s new ownership, Elon Musk and his team of couch-locking crack programming commandos have a great opportunity to make a positive contribution here.
This article is already a bit long, so I won’t offer too many potential ways to do this. But, in general, getting people to talk to people they disagree with and doing it in a civil way seems like an essential part of any solution here. To borrow the terminology of wait but why, we must climb the ladder of thought and move away from echo chambers towards laboratories of ideas. Many other insights into the evils of the “sick giant” of civilization can be found here.
Twitter’s new policy is freedom of expression, but not freedom of access.
Negative/hateful tweets will be deboosted and demonetized to the max, so no ads or other revenue for Twitter.
You won’t find the tweet unless you search for it specifically, which is no different from the rest of the internet.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) November 18, 2022
Removing divisive political rhetoric from the echo chamber doesn’t require deleting tweets or accounts, but absolute freedom of speech doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get absolute freedom of access. Deboosting mindless culture war partisan rhetoric, narratives that promote echo chamber thinking, and incivility could go a long way in making “town square” work for us again. Just like the real old town square, people who don’t know how to play nice usually end up with no one to talk to.
Here’s a great example of the kind of content that shouldn’t be boosted or amplified in a social media environment that values civil debate and think tanks over hate, partisan hacking and echo chambers:
If you agree with Senator Mitt Romney who just said he will ‘absolutely not’ support Donald Trump if he runs for president in 2024 because he’s ‘just not a person’ who should hold the “reigns of government”, retweet and follow us!
— Occupy Democrats (@OccupyDemocrats) December 9, 2022
If you look at every tweet from this account, you’ll see the same tired formula. But, the caveman part of a lot of people on the left eats it. Do you want proof ? The silly account has half a million followers! There are also accounts like “Jo” (@JoJoFromJerz) who spit nothing but leftist politics all day from Political Disneyland (735,000 followers), CallToActivism (939,000) and the Brooklyn Dad Defiant “perpetually pissed off” (1.1 million subscribers).
I don’t want to choose left either. The Right Side of the Culture War has accounts like Libs of Tik Tok, Ben Shapiro, and Matt Walsh who are committed to the idea that their side of the Culture War is both always right and the only side worth having. engaged (except for mocking and “owning the libraries” of course). So this is clearly not a Democrat or Republican problem. It’s something that both parties do, and it’s always wrong.
Should any of these people be banned from using Twitter? Nope! But Twitter shouldn’t spread any of their toxic messages beyond the reach of the followers they’ve gained if Elon Musk is to assert that he supports the benefits of free speech. The good of free speech comes mostly from civil discourse and the free exchange of ideas, and almost never comes from divisive rants, tribalism and hate.
If Twitter promoted enlightening and unifying political content instead of divisive “mental candy,” the cultural divide that prevents wider adoption of clean tech would be weakened and many other societal issues would be ameliorated.
Image selected by Chris LeBoutillier, Twitter and Jennifer Sensiba (Fair Use).
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