Q. I just filled out an on-line form that automatically sent an e-mail to my congressmen about global warming. Do these kinds of things really make a difference? – Sayna, WY

A. No matter what issues you have a particular interest in—whether it’s fighting global warming, protecting children from lead, encouraging clean energy, preserving habitats for polar bears,  or making sure your local beach is clean—chances are a major environmental group has an online campaign tailored to your cause that will automatically send a form letter to your senator or representative on your behalf. It’s easy to wonder whether legislators regard such missives as so much spam. But activist groups report that online forms really can effect change. “The ease factor really does have tremendous benefits—you don’t have to do any of the legwork to find out who to contact, you don’t have to worry about how to phrase your letter, and they allow us to dramatically increase the volume of people who are contacting their lawmakers,” says Jenny Powers, spokesperson for the Natural Resources Defense Council, which has a host of online activism campaigns in progress. And just because writing your congressmen has gotten easier doesn’t mean legislators pay any less attention. Politicians typically track the number of letters they get on a particular issue, be it e-mail or snail mail, individually-crafted or automatically-generated. So even if you just attach your name to the end of an on-line form letter, you’re on record as one more constituent who cares about that issue. One bit of advice though: confine your online activism to efforts that originate with an organization’s website. E-mail petitions that you sign and forward to your 100 best friends are seldom legit.

Story by Sarah Schmidt. This article originally appeared in Plenty in June 2008.

Copyright Environ Press 2008