#StopWillow is taking TikTok by storm. Can it actually work?

From left, Elise Joshi, Alex Haraus and Alaina Wood raise awareness of the Willow Project through TikTok.

(CNN)When Elise Joshi posted a TikTok video about the Alaska oil drilling project known as Willow in early February, she didn't have high hopes it would go viral.

Joshi, 20, posts often about climate issues on TikTok for the account Gen-Z for Change, as well as her personal account. She's well aware "climate doesn't trend very often," as she told CNN. But Joshi's video about Willow was very different. It took just a few days to accumulate more than 100,000 views, eventually surpassing 300,000.
"It's my most-viewed video in months," Joshi told CNN. "This is the entire internet advocating against Willow; [President Joe Biden's] voter base, that trusted him to act on climate."
      Biden's administration is expected to finalize its decision on whether to approve the ConocoPhillips Willow Project next week. If it goes through, the decadeslong oil drilling venture on the North Slope of Alaska would create thousands of jobs and establish a new source of revenue for the region.
        But it would also generate enough oil to release 9.2 million metric tons of planet-warming carbon pollution a year, by the federal government's estimate, about the same as adding 2 million cars to the roads.
          While the project has both supporters and opponents in its home state, it has become a lightning rod on social media. Over the past week, TikTok users in particular have galvanized around halting the project, with a staggering number of people watching and posting on the topic.
          @elisejoshi Biden isn't a climate champion if he approves an oil drilling project. Help get the word out about Willow! @wildernesssociety #stopwillow #alaska #nativetiktok #environment #greenscreen ♬ original sound - elise
          Videos with anti-Willow hashtags like #StopWillow have amassed close to 50 million views in the last week, and on Friday, Willow was on the site's top 10 trending list, behind celebrities Selena Gomez and Hailey Bieber. Much of the spike in interest has come in the last week alone.
          The online activism has resulted in more than one million letters being written to the White House protesting the project, as well as a Change.org petition with 2.8 million signatures and counting.
          "If that doesn't emphasize the fact that it's everyday Americans pushing back, I don't know what does," said Alex Haraus, 25, a TikTok creator whose Willow videos have garnered millions of views. "This is not an environmental movement, it's much larger than that. It's the American public that can vote."

          The sudden growth of #StopWillow

          Climate advocates gather to protest the Willow Project in Lafayette Square in front of the White House on January 10.
          TikTok creators and climate groups CNN spoke to said the sudden surge in online activism around Willow has largely been organic, and much larger than any other climate issue on the app before.
          Some climate and anti-fossil fuel groups have been working with specific TikTok creators and accounts around Willow, but no one group has spearheaded the online movement around the project. Similar TikTok campaigns have sprung up in the past few years around banning oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and stopping the Line 3 pipeline in Minnesota, but few have captured as much attention as Willow.
          "I've been doing this for a long time and it's very rare to see a climate issue go viral," said Alaina Wood, 26, a scientist, climate activist and TikTok creator.
          Wood told CNN she thinks the profile of climate has grown on apps frequented by younger generations, especially given Biden's climate law passed last year. But there is also a lot of anxiety and fear about the climate crisis on TikTok -- sentiments the Willow Project has captured and amplified.
          "Anytime a project like this goes viral, the climate doom also goes viral," Wood said, adding she's made videos to try to counter the climate doomerism proliferating among some young people. "A lot of young people are under the impression that if Willow gets passed, climate change will be irreversible. We still need to fight Willow, but your life isn't over if it's passed."
          @thegarbagequeen #stitch with @.definitelynotray This is really scary stuff we're dealing with, so it's okay to feel what you're feeling. Just don't let it lead to inaction — or to give up on your future. Together we will address it — no matter what happens with Willow. Don't feel like you have to carry the weight of all of it in your shoulders though. This is a team effort, and our team is growing in numbers and power every single day. Don't give up the fight, but don't be afraid to take steps to protect your mental health. #StopWillow #StopTheWillowProject #WillowProject #ClimateAnxiety #ClimateChange #ClimateGrief ♬ original sound - Alaina | Good Climate News
          The growth of #StopWillow TikTok has both befuddled and delighted legacy climate groups, some of which were wondering why it took so long for Willow to get noticed. Even though Biden has already cemented part of his legacy on climate by working with Congress to pass the most ambitious climate bill in generations, activists who fought Keystone XL and the Dakota Access Pipeline during the Obama administration say one thing remains constant: massive fossil fuel projects tend to fire people up.
          "Specific fights galvanize public attention way more than policy does," said Jamie Henn, the director of nonprofit Fossil Free Media and a former co-founder of the environmental organization 350.org. "These are the issues that capture the public imagination. It is really foolhardy to ignore that."
          The White House has shown it cares about reaching TikTok's vast, young audience. White House officials have invited TikTok creators to the White House multiple times, including for a meeting with Biden himself about the Inflation Reduction Act in October.