Climate Change Communication in Argentina
Summary and Keywords
Climate change research in Argentina focuses on its physical aspects (natural sciences) and not so much on the social aspects, beyond the various surveys measuring perceptions and concerns of Argentinians about climate change. There are few studies that address the problem of communicating the issue from a social sciences standpoint, and these refer to analysis of its coverage in the leading newspapers. And almost all have been published in Spanish. The links between media coverage, policy, and public perceptions in Argentina have not been the subject of academic research thus far. Given the lack of specific bibliography examining the climate change communication from a transversal outlook, in-depth interviews were used to find this out. This study presents an overview of the communication of climate change in Argentina considering not only the journalistic point of view but also that of other social actors. Five areas of interest were defined: the political, the scientific, the media, NGO environmentalists, and what this article refers to as “other sectors.” This fifth area incorporated other voices from the business sector or the non-specialized civil sphere in order to complement the panorama of representative actors that have something to say about the communication of the climate change in Argentina.
Argentina produces 4.6 metric tons of CO2 emissions per capita and contributes to 0.88% of global emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG). As Non-Annex I Party to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), reports on their actions both to address climate change (CC) and to adapt to its impacts through national communications (NCs), which provide information on GHG inventories and measures to mitigate and to facilitate adequate adaptation to climate change. Developing countries are required to submit their first NC within three years of entering the convention and every four years thereafter. In 1994 Argentina ratified the convention, and in 2015 it was presented in its Third National Communication (NC3).
As a result, CC has not been a particularly relevant topic in Argentina’s institutional agenda in general. However, the coming to power of Mauricio Macri’s government on December 10, 2015, after the Kirchner governments (2003–2015) marked a 180-degree turn in Argentina’s politics in general, and in the strategy against CC in particular. First evidence of this was the transformation of the ex-secretary of state for the environment into ministry, with a Department of Climate Change. Coinciding with the signing of the Paris Agreement in New York (April 24, 2016), the launching of a National Plan of Response to Climate Change and of the National Cabinet for Climate Change were announced, which will coordinate actions of all ministries and entities of the administration transversally.
The geographic position of the country and its socioeconomic characteristics meant that Argentina was vulnerable to CC. There was an increase in the average temperature in most of Argentina, and large increases in precipitation were observed in the east of the country, causing floods with large socioeconomic impact. There was also a reduction in precipitation in semi-arid zones. Because of the damages and casualties that heatwaves and extreme precipitation events are already producing, the first and most urgent adaptation required is to reinforce early warning systems and contingency planning to cope with climatic extremes and their consequences on health, according to Barros et al. (2015).
In the report of Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDCs), these national circumstances, vulnerability, emissions of greenhouse gases profile, adaptation, and mitigation efforts were noted, and the process for the preparation of the national contribution was communicated to UNFCCC.
Research on CC is intensely focused on its physical aspects (natural sciences) and not so much on the social aspects beyond the various surveys measuring perceptions and concerns of Argentinians about CC. There are few studies that address the problem of communication surrounding CC in Argentina from a social sciences perspective, and even these refer to analysis of the coverage of the issue in the leading newspapers. Almost all have been published in Spanish.
In this context, this study presents an overview of the communication of climate change in Argentina considering not only the journalistic point of view but also that of other social actors, politicians, scientists, and NGOs.
Social concern about climate change has increased dramatically in the 21st century. In 2015 the Argentinian government carried out a complete study to gauge public opinion about the CC, to determine the valuation of the responsibilities at a national level, and to identify the perceptions on the effects and impacts. The results revealed that 77% of those surveyed were extremely concerned about CC, and 89% answered that CC is of anthropogenic origin. In 2005 the research firm “Poliarquia Consultores” conducted a broad survey of environmental issues, requested by Argentina’s Wildlife Foundation and found that “the results are quite expressive: only 7.5 per cent of the sample considered that climate change was a main environmental problem, far away from topics like floods or local pollution” (Franchini, 2011).
The majority believe that the consequences are already evident, although more than half of the population do not think Argentina has played a major role in worsening CC. And 58% consider that the CC is overrated in respect to other environmental problems, such as garbage collection or contamination of the rivers. Almost the same percentage think that CC could eventually affect their lifestyle. On a scale of 1 to 10, the responsibility of the government and the local authorities in taking measures to fight against CC scores highest. In second place, it is the businesses and the private sector who need to take action. The action of the general population comes in third place, while the scientists are found to be doing the most to solve the problem.
According to those surveyed, the principal causes of climate change in Argentina are deforestation and industry, followed later in descending order by energy, transport, waste, and agriculture. Note that deforestation and agriculture are presented as independent, whereas the principal cause of deforestation is the change in the use of the soil for agricultural and farming exploitation.
In another study, carried out jointly by the ONG Argentina Wildlife Foundation (FVSA) and the consultancy firm Poliarquía in 2014, CC appeared as the number-one-ranked environmental concern. Argentinean publics considered CC as their biggest concern, and the same was true in 19 of 40 nations surveyed, making CC the most widespread concern of any issue included in the Pew Research Center survey (Carle, 2015) measuring perceptions of international challenges. A median of 61% of Latin Americans say they are extremely concerned about climate change—the highest share of any region.
However, in the survey that the Pew Research Center (Stokes, Wike, & Carle, 2015) carried out in 40 countries, the Argentinian concern over CC was seen as being more consistent with the concern shown by the European population than with that of the neighboring countries. Concern over CC is especially high in Latin America, where a median of 74% think it is a serious problem, compared with 54% who share the same opinion in Europe.
In Brazil, 86% believe CC is an extremely serious concern, as do three-quarters or more in Chile (77%) and 75% in Peru. However, in Argentina, 59% express serious concerns about the threat of global warming.
As with concern about CC more broadly, Latin Americans express the greatest unease about the immediacy of the CC threat. About three-quarters (77%) say CC is harming people now. Roughly two-thirds or more in every Latin American nation surveyed say the detrimental effects of CC are already being felt by people around the world.
Also Latin Americans are among the most alarmed: 63% say they are extremely concerned that CC will impact them personally. Brazilians (78%) are particularly concerned about the personal effect of CC. In Argentina, the figure goes down to 58%. The media in Latin America have fulfilled their role in indicating that the issue is important; they no longer say that they are not concerned about CC.
The understanding of how CC is covered by the media is crucial given that studies such as Corbett, Young, and Davis (2009) demonstrated the relationship between public concern over the issue reflected in surveys of the public, the political agenda, and media coverage in the United States.
Climate Change in Latin American and Argentinean Media
Much of the research studies on CC communication have been focused on the media coverage in the United States and Europe. If the studies did include other regions, they were generally limited to English-speaking countries. Media coverage of CC in regions such as Latin America has not been studied extensively, so there is little empirical evidence available that examines the behavior of the media in relation to the issue of CC in the Spanish-speaking countries of Latin America.
In their analysis of CC coverage from 40 English-language newspapers in 13 countries across five continents, Boykoff and Roberts (2007a) highlight the clear need for this analysis to be extended to other countries. The only Latin American country analyzed in their study was Honduras. The Global Media Map on Climate Change project (Schäfer et al., 2013) measured media attention for CC over a 15-year period in 27 countries around the world. Brazil (The Folha de Sao Paulo) and México (Reforma) were the Latin American countries chosen (Schmidt, Ivanova, & Schäfer, 2013).
The research graphic 2004–2016 World Newspaper Coverage of Climate Change or Global Warming (Boykoff et al., 2016) is the result of the study of coverage of CC in 50 newspapers across 25 countries and 6 continents. Only two are from Latin America: La Nación (Argentina) and El Nacional (Venezuela).
One of the few studies focusing on the region was the analysis of Arcila, Mercado, Piñuel, and Suárez (2015). They investigate the manner in which Latin American and Spanish online media presented news on CC during the Conferences of the Parties in Cancun (2010) and Durban (2011). This study involved a content analysis of 889 news items from 97 online media outlets. Consistent with previous research, the findings show that principal sources for these news items are politicians, and almost half of the news came from news agencies, coinciding with the results from the research by Takahashi and Meisner (2013a, 2013b) who examined the role of news agencies in media coverage of CC in Peru. Therefore the inclusion of a high percentage of news items from international agencies shows the lack of a connection between the global problem and concerns and action at a local level. Consistent results are found in the study of the coverage of the summits of Nairobi to Copenhagen, carried out under the same theoretical and methodological budgets (Arcila, Freyle, & Mercado, 2015).
In addition, studies have been undertaken that focused on countries such as Chile (Dotson et al., 2012) or Mexico (Gordon et al., 2010). Zamith, Pinto, and Villar (2013) conducted a comparative analysis of the coverage by the elite press in three South American countries (Argentina, Brazil, and Colombia) and the United States in 2009.
Kitzberger and Pérez (2009), in their study on the informative treatment of CC in seven Latin American countries, concluded that the media analyzed did not reflect any profound discussion on the issue. CC was approached mainly as an international issue with little attention to the reality itself. The authors determined that Chile, Venezuela, and Argentina were the countries with the major international focus, while in Peru and Bolivia this trend was inverted. La Nación published barely 18 news stories about CC, equivalent to 0.46% of the production of the newspaper during one month in 2008; Clarín, only published 11 stories, which represented 0.27% of its total volume during the same period. In Argentina, the environmental organizations were important voices of authority in the national press, equaling the scientific sources in the register. The participation of these NGOs in the definition and characterization of the problem boosts public awareness as a strategy for approaching the problem of CC. The issue is presented as more linked to the participation of civil society than to the pressure on governmental policies.
In order to unravel the role of the local newspapers in light of a problem on a global scale such as CC, González Alcaraz (2012a) analyzed how CC was covered in two newspapers in the Argentinian city of Rosario. The results were no different from those of the national press. Basically, the coverage was concentrated during those periods when transnational events were occurring, and agency news items were published without an apparent series of criteria that would act as a reliable guide to how the problem could be approached. Of the total units analyzed, only 11 referred to the immediate effect of CC on Rosario itself (p. 20).
The author pointed out that the international political and scientific agenda overwhelmed the national-local voices. At the same time as governmental managers, local politicians and other actors with the capacity for interference in the local public agenda appeared not to have designed the necessary strategies for influencing the media’s agenda with a more marked debate on the relationship of CC with the local reality. The issue is not relevant to public debate but remains the concern of some local organizations and in some areas of environmental management, but without penetrating the rest of society (González Alcaraz, 2012a, p. 14).
The lack of local perspective was also emphasized in the analysis of the 317 pieces published during three and a half years in the newspaper Clarín, carried out by Mercado (2013). The results of the research stressed that the issue is focused from an international perspective, with few references to policies of mitigation or adaptation in the local. The most frequent issues referred to international negotiation or the presentation of scientific reports. The reduction of GHG emissions on a global level was the solution most mentioned, although in its editorials, Clarín clearly defined how to address climate change: by dealing with a change in the models of production and consumption and with changes in the energy system. Argentina needs to move in the direction of sustainable development supported in the use of forms of renewable energy.
All of the studies carried out highlight the Copenhagen Summit in December 2009 as the peak of CC media attention. So 29% of the total of environmental news items that were published during 2009 corresponded to this COP15 and indicated the report carried out by FARN, which began to monitor the newspapers Clarín, La Nación, and Página 12 this same year in order to analyze the environmental news items, among those being CC articles (Sangalli, 2010).
These results are consistent with those found in the study that analyzed the coverage of CC in the Argentinean press from October 1, 2009, to September 30, 2010, covering the reaction of the press to the results of the COP15 (Mercado, 2012). Across the sample period, 486 articles from Clarín and 290 from La Nación were analyzed. All were included in the quantitative content analysis; a subsample of 186 news articles was included in the textual analyses to identify generic frames. The framework that prevails in the two leading newspapers is the “conflict,” in line with the focused CC coverage on the international politics agenda. But in La Nación articles on “sustainability” have the same percentage of published reports (38.4%), which is well above the figure for articles about “risk” (14.3%) associated with scaremongering about the effects of CC or the new data provided by climate scientists. In Clarín both frames offer similar percentages: 24.4% for “sustainability” and 21.7% for “risk.” “Opportunity” with regard to CC was found to be about 10% in both newspapers (2012, p. 202).
Gavirati (2012) studied the COP15 from another perspective. His working hypothesis looked to demonstrate that greater media repercussion does not necessarily mean promoting a greater ecological conscience. Clarín and La Nación carried the discourse of the north countries. In Page 12, the relationship was more regional, linked to the ALBA countries because of their greater proximity to the Argentinian government. But there was no environmentalist point of view in any of these (p.17).
If in 2009 CC was the main issue among the environmental news items, with 180 out of a total of 631, accounting for 28.5%, in 2010 this figure dropped to 6% and continued at 8% during 2011. Neither the summits of Cancun nor of Durban managed to attract the attention of the media. Sangalli (2011) highlighted the spike in media attention to environmental issues in 2010, yet issues specifically connected with CC appeared to have come to a standstill. The summits held in Bonn, Cochabamba, and Cancun went by almost unnoticed in the media. The Durban Summit stirred up the least amount of interest, not only for its poor results but also, as Gaitán and Piñuel have pointed out (2013, p. 186), due to the effects of the crisis in the routines of production: “The transit seen in the discourse of Cancun to Durban is impoverishing, because of to the lack of special envoys and the simplification of the messages reduced to empty political discourse.” The inadequate advances in international negotiations are reflected in the lack of media interest in the issue.
The media does not show the CC phenomenon as something that affects the lives of the people but presents it as an issue that concerns only scientists and groups of experts, NGOs, and ultimately, national governments and international agencies that participate in meetings that are often unproductive. In this context, the ordinary citizens appear as mere spectators, rather than actors with the capacity for action and transformation (González Alcaraz, 2012b, p. 215). When the citizens do manage to become the protagonists of media stories, most of the time they appear as “victims” of CC, and to a lesser extent, as “saviors” of the planet (Gavirati, 2012).
Studies carried out in the United States and the United Kingdom have revealed that media representation of “skeptical” or “negationist” discourse of scientific consensus about CC has empowered posturing that rejects the actions or measures to address the problem. In the case of the most important newspaper in Argentina, Clarín, however, there is a consensus in how climatic science is viewed, and CC is recognized as a problem rooted in human intervention (Gonzaléz Alcaraz, 2015, p. 325). As Painter (2012) has stressed, the “skeptical discourse” about CC is only produced in the Anglo-Saxon world (Grundmann & Scott, 2012; Painter, 2012; Boykoff & Boykoff, 2007b; Carvalho, 2007; Boykoff & Boykoff, 2004), whereas in other latitudes the CC is presented as a legitimate problem that demands solutions.
Although the generic frame that appears most frequently in Argentinean CC news is that of “conflict,” the conflict does not appear in scientific debate about whether or not anthropogenic CC exists, according to Mercado (2012). The antagonists are not scientists and skeptics, since nowhere are the IPCC reports questioned; the Argentinean press does not uphold the level of scientific uncertainty that has been magnified by the media in other industrialized countries.
From the Argentinean perspective the confrontation is clearly between industrialized and developing countries. This is true at least for Clarín, through the chronicles of its special correspondent at the COP15, which shows this different approach and how it differs from the European or North American approach. But this media construction is not found in La Nación, as most of their coverage comes from international agencies. Argentina resembles more a spectator than an actor. The official position calls for a settling of the “environmental debt,” but the fight against CC is not a matter of political priority in Argentina, at least seen from the perspective of the Argentinean mainstream media (p. 206).
Climate Change Communication in Argentina
In order to become familiar with how CC is portrayed in Argentina, in-depth interviews were used; this is a qualitative method (Lindlof & Taylor, 2010) that can shed light on the issue in question from the various points of view offered by those interviewed. Five areas of interest were defined: the political, the scientific, the media, the NGO environmentalists, and what can be referred to as “other sectors.” This fifth area incorporated other voices from the business sector or non-specialized civil sphere in order to complement the panorama of representative voices of the key actors that have something to say about how CC is covered in Argentina. Tansey (2007) argues, “When sampling interviewees in a process tracing study, the ultimate goal is to reduce randomness as much as possible, and thus non-probability sampling approaches are the most appropriate” (p. 765). Communication via e-mail finally led to conversation on Skype with 18 people. Some of those contacted refused to participate in this study.
The interviews were conducted via Skype during the months of March and April 2016. The interviews lasted between 30 and 60 minutes and followed a semi-structured format. The questions were about rating the presence of CC in the public debate, the role of the different social agents in the communication of CC, the level of social awareness, the problems involved in informing about CC as scientific knowledge, and how to improve communication in general.
The interviews were recorded and then transcribed for analysis in Spanish. The analysis was conducted on the Spanish transcripts to avoid losing meaning in the translation process, similar to the process followed by other researchers such as Takahashi and Meisner (2013c). The analysis followed an iterative coding procedure, where codes were developed inductively by reading the transcripts and highlighting and selecting common themes among them (Aberbach & Rockman, 2002; Kvale, 1996; Rubin & Rubin, 2005; Seidman, 2006). The interviews were analyzed by looking at several factors of importance for the process of CC communication in Argentina.
What the Journalists Think
The presence of CC in the Argentinian press is described as “sporadic,” which is to say, “it comes and goes” depending on catastrophes or international Summit meetings, in the words of Fermín Koop (FK), environmental journalist working for The Buenos Aires Herald. The 2015 UN climate summit in Paris (COP21), which many journalists attended, enjoyed wide coverage.
Clarín and La Nación, the two newspapers with the greatest circulation in Argentina, participated in 2015 in the Climate Publishers Network, an unprecedented content-sharing partnership among international news publishers on CC stories ahead of the COP21, led by The Guardian. “It was a good experience,” according to Marina Aizen (MA), a journalist specialized for Clarín. The project made possible a weekly coverage that had not existed before, from mid-2015 until the COP21. “Once this project was over, coverage of CC went back to being sporadic.”
The scant media attention to CC is primarily driven by editors who have to be convinced in order to report on this issue. In the opinion of MA, the editors do not understand the immediacy of this issue. From El Cronista Comercial, María del Pilar Assefh (PA) insists that in the mass media there is much work to be done, because of the recalcitrance of editors: “They don’t see it as an issue in the journalistic agenda” (PA). Journalists who want to cover environmental issues are fighting an uphill battle, “because there is an attitude of almost militant censorship on environmental issues; to the editors they are merely colorful notes, nonsense” (MA).
Fermín Koop also recalls the continual struggles with his editor, but he believes that something is changing: “Over time, I have seen a change; all of a sudden the editor wanted to publish the issues that I proposed, and even launched a section on the environment” (FK). Koop’s opinion is that we are seeing more information on CC on a daily basis because journalists are more interested in learning about these issues. And the media is beginning to understand that this issue cannot be ignored. This change is due mainly to the increase in the effects of global warming perceived in the environment. One of these effects, the floods of 2013, 2014, and 2015, has been acting as “a trigger for debate on CC” (FK). Laura Rocha (LR), environmental journalist for La Nación, concurs that in recent years the media is opening its eyes to these issues and that this has to do with the impacts of CC beginning to be more tangible. However, the politicians are using the link between floods and CC as an excuse for their ineffective management in improvement of infrastructures (MA).
The limited relevance of CC debate as seen by the editors has had much to do with, up to now, CC not being included in the political agenda. There have been no institutional campaigns because the Kirchner governments attached little importance to the environment and to CC.
Definitively, it was never an issue on the table, it never mattered, as with other Latin American governments; they were never interested in environmental issues and never made a decision on any project that was taken up on the basis of criteria of sustainability (FK).
However, “the government of Macri has taken the issue of CC very seriously” and has shown itself open to the press. “They call us, they invite us to the ministry, they sit down with us, they tell us things, they answer our questions, answer phone calls, it’s another type of relationship” (MA). At least judging from the discourse, there is a chance of incorporating the issue. “If you listen to the interviews with President Macri, there is always a mention of CC, which later is gone into in depth or something is done about the issue; we’re already at another level, but they’ve only been in the government three months,” reflects FK.
Journalists recognize that CC is often portrayed negatively and irresponsibly in the media. The main reason is a lack of specialization:
Generally speaking, I believe that in the audiovisual media is where the lack of specialization is most acutely felt, perhaps in daily newspapers or in magazines there are more well-trained journalists. On television when they want to cover some information about CC, they end up calling on one of the journalists specialized in the environment; they call me or a colleague to intervene, instead of having a journalist of their own that knows about the issue (FK).
Specialization means moving closer to science, and scientists can help journalists understand the problem. Scientists need to get more involved, as they are the ones who really know what is happening with CC. However, for the scientist it is difficult to translate scientific research into simple, direct language. Their professional life is devoted to another area, and here is where the role of the journalist comes in: “The scientists would have to see the way to make technical knowledge something that is socially understandable, because even those of us who are involved in the issue and read the scientific papers and journals sometimes find it hard to follow the line of process” (PA).
As there are practically no journalists who are also climate specialists, “They say things that do not correspond, they associate things to CC that sometimes have nothing to do with CC” (FK). However, we would have to take everything on a case-by-case basis: for instance, if the scientist has expressed him or herself badly or the journalist has not taken the time to properly understand the scientific aspects (PA).
Rocha also mentions the permanent distrust between journalists and scientists, who “are never satisfied, above all with the headlines” (LR). But beyond this misunderstanding, the scientists are the referent and above all, they will have to have a more participatory role in deciding policies.
The scientists agonize long and hard when it is time to talk about CC: “They do not express the urgency that they should be expressing,” MA points out. “Many scientists who were involved in the Kischner project were not at all satisfied with the 1% of the Argentinian contribution to the total of emissions and, in spite of being in the IPCC, they were reluctant to communicate this” (MA). Besides the need for more interested journalists, to improve the communication of CC
the editors, those that have the power, need to understand that this is not a thing about personal tastes, nor a religion, it is an issue which must be specialized, that needs to be studied, be attentive to the papers, to the positions of the countries, it is a complicated issue. It is not a caprice, it is a specialization and nobody recognizes you in any of the Argentinian newspapers. (MA)
On the other hand, Rocha thinks that the journalist must make use of new digital tools in order to better communicate, and of course it is necessary that CC be included in the political agenda.
New platforms, good stories, and other ways of talking about CC are needed because “an issue which is so versatile that it can be approached from many angles” (MA). It is not necessary to always be talking about the increase in temperatures but more about how this increase affects daily life. This connection with daily life is fundamental so that the people can engage with the problem directly. Because, for Assefh, in general terms there is no real concern about the connection between what one does and how this affects the environment. Koop thinks along the same lines: “Concern about CC is nothing but a politically correct response, the same as with simpler issues of ecology or environment.” In Argentina, there are no negationists as there are in the United States. “In Argentina no one is going to tell you that CC does not exist; however, they may tell you that they are not concerned because in 50 years they are not going to see the effects, they won’t be here to see what happens” (MA).
The Institutional Overview
The structural changes in government produced by 2015 will affect how the effects of CC are communicated to the public and undoubtedly will increase the coverage of CC in the media. It is “very important for President Macri, who has it on his agenda as a battle horse. And not only now, but since years ago when he was head of the government of the city of Buenos Aires,” according to Sebastián Galbusera (SG), who coordinated GHG Inventory and Mitigation of the Third National Communication (NC3).
In front, the mistrust of the country’s main productive sector, the agricultural sector, which is responsible for 50% of GHG emissions, whether due to deforestation, that is, the advance of the agricultural frontier or livestock activity itself. In this respect, the Deputy Secretary for Climate Change and Sustainable Development of the Nation, Carlos Gentile (CG), has criticized the defensive attitude of the previous government of Cristina Kirschner against CC.
Kirschner Government was more concerned with setting limits, understanding that the questions deriving from CC could affect the industries of the country. We believe that their position is not a logical one; the concerns, yes, but the position no. It is clear that this is going to generate certain obligations which will have to be looked after carefully in a country that is developing, but we need to adopt a positive attitude, to get involved and assume a role of leadership. (CG)
Galbusera introduced here a predominance of mitigation measures against those of adaptation as one of the variables that influence in the perception of the issue: “It is more difficult to work on adaptation, and the idea of blaming the agricultural sector for their contribution in emissions is reiterated. This at time results in short-circuits or a lack of understanding of the subject” (SG).
From the international agenda, there is more talk of mitigation, and reducing emissions is easier to explain. “Adaptation is not discussed unless there is a catastrophe” (SG). In this regard, consultants focusing on CC are also pointing out that floods have occurred during the past three years, although “there have always been floods, in 1985 a very important one, but now there is more coverage in the media. 20 cameras and 20 channels and they upload it onto YouTube” (SG).
However, when you ask a scientist, he tells you: I cannot assure you that the extreme event was caused by CC; I can show you the trend. In general, it is the media that are associating it, because they are looking for impact (SG).
For the coordinator of Institutional Strengthening in the NC3, Sebastián Castelli (SC), who was responsible for communication issues and relations with the civil society and the governments of the provinces, this presence of CC in the media, linked to isolated events, responds to a “sporadic interest”: a flood, a landslide, and the subject takes on a certain relevance and the ministry is contacted in order to obtain information. Later, the issue falls into the hands of someone else, and it comes out again in light of another catastrophe. From his perspective, the information published in the media can and should be improved—above all in the mass media.
It would be very unfair to generalize, because some journalists treat it with the greatest responsibility possible, but with many others the question is restricted to the anecdotal: It rained a lot, so it must be the fault of CC (SC).
For SG, “the newspaper response has to do more with the striking headline.” Castelli points out that they do not address the issues, nor search for the causes; and they don’t use the archives for background information. The main reason for this is the lack of specialized journalists, not necessarily in CC, but in the general environment.
Galbusera recognizes that it generates a considerable amount of “frustration” that a journalist gives “space to a person that is saying things that are not correct because that person is not aware of the process.”
On too many occasions the interpretation of the journalist shows deficiencies. You think: I didn’t say that, as if the concept were ill defined; the spirit of what I intended to say is not there, the fact is not bad, but there is something strange in the message (SG).
Along the same lines, according to Gentile, the agenda presented by the media is not necessarily proactive and constructed, but depends on an extreme climatic event or on the outbreak of a plague, like now for example, the zika or the dengue.
And in the middle they stick in statements that are not completely correct and misinformation, because in the absence of the State, other organizations or experts are consulted, some who are very good and inform well, and others not so well (SG).
In order to avoid these situations, derived from the absence of the state on a political and strategic level, and obviously in communication and education, the Macri government proposes to centralize communication in the Department of Climate Change so that information is not coming from multiple sources. Media relations are a priority, but they also need to be forthright in expressing their views.
In the administration of Cristina Kirschner, the communication component framed in the preparation of the NC3 was understood as a mixture of institutional rhetoric, with creation of content for the media, but lacked connection with the press itself:
We focused the project on inter-institutional communication and we lacked the bringing down of information to the press and to the public in general; it was like evangelizing to the evangelized, in that it was concentrated on diffusion to the government organisms, to civil society organizations (NGOs) or to those who were involved in the issue. (SG)
One of the focal points was involvement in the training of communicators—journalists first and foremost, but also persons working in NGOs. A session materialized with the Di Tella University. Workshops were held in the different provinces with scientists who prepared studies on the emissions inventory.
In any case, the three agree on the idea that the population is interested in CC, although they emphasize “the paradox of much talk and little action.”
To the Argentinian CC would appear to be a sophisticated issue, proactive, about progress, it sounds like technology, there is a favorable environment for putting the issue on the agenda, but it needs to be deployed with correct information and not with inadequate or misleading information. (CG)
The key to improvement in communication about CC requires first of all that it gets to the decision makers: “The strengthening of the public sector and the prioritization of the issue in the political agenda will serve as a basis so that then we can come out and discuss about CC, and how to adapt” (SC).
The Point of View of the NGOs
“Besides pointing to a participation directed ‘to watch’ governmental policies on climate change, the NGOs and civil society organizations have asked for the conformation of spaces of social participation in the scopes of debate and formulation of policies” (Mussetta et al., 2015). From statements such as this, we know that since the 1970s, CC has been a part of the scientific and academic conversations in Argentina. However, it has been only in the early 21st century that the issue began to be present in the public agenda mainly as a result of different international meetings that positioned the problem as a matter of global significance, as evidenced from the Argentine Wildlife Foundation (FVSA).
The journalistic coverage of the COP21 was especially important. “The issue was clearly installed in the agenda, although it must be recognized that it comes in waves, that it is not constant,” as Estanislao Sarandón (ES) of Aclimatando points out. For Enrique Maurtua Konstantinidis (EMK), director of climate change in the Fundación Ambiente y Recursos Naturales (FARN), it is the political expectations generated in the summits that heighten the intensity of the coverage. There were hardly any special envoys sent to Doha or to Durban. “Many media cut and paste information from agencies or media like the BBC,” but thanks to the importance that CC is beginning to have at an international level, own-reporting is beginning to be generated. Another agent to be taken into account is the relevance of Pope Francis in his country of origin. Pope Francis’s May 2015 speech on the environment and human ecology, contends that CC is a global problem with grave implications.
The environmental rhetoric of the Pope has opened the door to many persons who weren’t used to paying attention to the care of the environment. The politicians have given considerable attention to the issue making reference to the Encycical Laudato Si’. It has had much greater repercussion than what the scientists or politicians are saying. (EMK)
NGOs have pointed out that although CC is not sufficiently discussed in the media, there has been a greater interest since the floods of 2011, and this interest was again evident in 2013 and 2015. The connection has become increasingly important, and in the election campaign of 2015, one of the candidates stated that the real culprit was CC: “Unfortunately it was more of an excuse in the face of the lack of investment or of attention to the affected persons, but the issue was there” (EMK).
Aclimatando also considers that since the appearance of the generalized correlation between the floods and CC: “We are still seeing the polar bear, but it’s much more common to see the image of the flooded Cathedral of Lujan or people in boats floating along the streets” (ES). However, links between the droughts, the dengue, or deforestation and CC are not so clear in the media and neither is the relation between deforestation and the Argentine agro industrial model: “On the one hand we are celebrating the record production of soybeans, but at the same time the news of the disaster of the amount of GEI emissions, and in these two news items there is no link. Surprising. These sectors have positioned themselves as victims, but in no way responsible” (ES).
Ricardo Bertolino (RB) from the Red Argentina de Municipios frente al Cambio Climático (RAMCC), also thinks the agricultural sectors are profoundly affected by the extreme climatological phenomena directly associated with CC, although not with their causes. “It would seem that CC is generated by others, not by me with my ways of producing or consuming” (RB). The work in communication has something to do with it, as “it’s as if there were a big headline that everyone has seen, but they haven’t read the whole news item, and this is where the problem comes from” (RB).
In Argentina the NGOs have become the main source of information for the media, and because of this, “We are the ones that are taking the lead in matters of communication of the CC” (EMK), in the absence of “an active and proactive policy in respect to communication of the CC and the generation of conscience in the society from the government, as would be desirable” (FVSA). Passive communication does exist, principally through the webpages of government agencies. “Within this framework, the NGOs have a role parallel to that of the State, and a major challenge for improving communication in questions of CC,” as Inés Lanz (IL) from FVSA points out.
It was, above all, the NGOs that worked with the Argentinian scientist members of the IPCC on their studies. On the one hand, this connection made sure that the scientific knowledge did not remain relegated to certain ghettos. On the other hand, this information has also been taken up by journalists who know how to process it, making it more palatable to the common reader.
The quality of the Argentinian scientists’ work is recognized by those who have been interviewed, although “this information is mostly limited to the scientific-academic community, and the interface of scientific endeavor and communication to bring it down and make it available to a mass audience is still pending” (IL). Scientists should have a greater presence in society: “This is a problem that science has always had; it has been like a confraternity: no outward projection, and what does go out is in a language which is very difficult for the people. I believe that there is a great responsibility of science to come out of the laboratory” (ES). RB has the same opinion and also refers to the universities, “where they are not working together with the future professionals to program projects and actions that work to solve this problem.”
Science has its own technical language, and therefore someone must carry out the translation. In order to do so, the journalist has to be qualified; however, not all the media outlets employ specialized journalists. For EM, there are scientists who, with the adequate training, can take on this work of dissemination with simple explications that can appeal to lay people. The difficulty scientists have in dealing with communication has prompted the NGOs to take a leading role, because it is difficult for the scientists to simplify their messages for a mass audience: “Really, the most serious problem of communication of CC is that talking about CC or about metaphysics with the people is the same” (EMK).
The NGOs benefit when the issue comes out in the media for a specific event, and “they go further beyond to talk about the species that are in danger of extinction because of the CC, or the rational and efficient use of energy” (IL). A greater degree of continuity in the follow-up on environmental issues and greater depth in media coverage would be desirable. It is important that the media put forward concrete data of the problems associated with CC and how this affects everyday life.
Facing the challenge of CC is an effort that all of us have to make; no social agent can remain on the sidelines, although there are different degrees of responsibility. It is the local governments who have to assume greater leadership; raising people’s awareness would be more rapid. But if all the players do not act together interconnected, the objective is not going to be achieved. (RB)
The Scientific Perspective
Communication of CC in Argentina is due to isolated efforts that depend on personal or institutional initiatives but not to a strategy of planned communication, nor to the role of the government or the National Research Council Scientific and Technical (CONICET). Generally, those interested in offering talks on CC turn to this independent scientific body or to the universities. From here, they are put in contact with scientists such as Matilde Rusticussi (MR) or Carolina S. Vera (CV). Rusticucci is the director of the Department of Atmospheric and Ocean Sciences of University of Buenos Aires (UBA). She was lead author of Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis, contribution of Working Group I (WG I) to of the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report. Vera is director of Research Center Ocean and Atmospheric Administration (CIMA). She was one of the authors of the Special Report on Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation of the IPCC.
“We scientists are much more accessible,” says CV, who does not agree with the belief that it is necessary to oversimplify science to reach the general public. In her opinion, the level of scientific education has greatly improved, and it is an error to assume that the people do not understand scientific terms. “We have made a very important effort. There remains much to do, but in this Argentina has been a Pioneer, for example with the cannel Encuentro of the Ministry of Education, in which we participate and have done a series of 12 very good documentaries on CC” (CV).
Apart from this channel for disseminating science in general, the government has not assumed any leading role in communicating the specificities of CC. “The more immediate economic, social, and political problems consume a large part of the agenda, and issues such as the CC, more of a long-term, have not found a place, not even other related ones, such as energy consumption” (CV). Certainly the state, above all at the municipal level, should have “a more active role in communicating what they know, which is sufficient, and in promoting what should be done, because in each province the effects of CC are different,” thinks MR, and “they are not even aware of the national communications.” “Nobody, not journalists nor persons who are doing a post-graduate specialization related to CC know that there exists something called the Third National Communication on CC.” At the presentation, not even the ex-president or the cabinet chief were present: “There were about thirty of us, of whom twenty of us had participated in the preparation of the report. A few reporters published a news item that day and nothing more” (MR). The informants could take much more advantage of the NC3, close to 300 pages with current data at a sophisticated scientific level.
In this regard, MR believes that Argentina lacks much specialization in the area of journalism. “At least they need to know what we are talking about in order to be able to ask questions and not have to begin explaining the greenhouse effect” (MR). Going further, a fault is perceived in the journalistic training itself: “There are not many journalists who investigate and they don’t just compare the opinion of the IPCC with that of a citizen who says it was warmer when he was young. It seems that all they do is look for someone who thinks the opposite” (MR). Of course, there are journalists who have adequate levels of scientific knowledge, but generally speaking more specialization is needed, since the media are the principal source of information.
The daily newspapers give CC more space than the television, except in some cases, such as during the Paris Summit. “But then they don’t go on, they don’t go into depth in the conclusions and in what happens later on” (MR). In the case of print media,
we have to differentiate between those newspapers in which the journalists call you up on the phone and are writing on the computer while you talk, and the magazines or specialized supplements that call you a month before and send you the interview so that you can revise it, because they want to be sure that it is expressed correctly. (CV)
To effectively communicate facts about CC, just like with any other scientific issue, it is necessary to take one’s time and be meticulous; however, often there just is not enough time. “Obviously, the more well-written articles are also longer, and much less read” (CV).
Along with the media, clearly the NGOs have taken a leading role in communicating, organizing information, and discussion activities: “Everything adds up, the important thing is that the information gets out there and that it gets out there well, that the explication is correct and not a catastrophic piece of news. The media always link extreme events with CC, although we scientists know that it isn’t always so; fear is not particularly helpful” (CV). It is also true that catastrophic discourse makes people see the problem as something distant. Fear paralyzes: “Those who live over a geological fault don’t live in a state of distress all day long, but are informed about what they have to do if an earthquake occurs. This is what is lacking in Argentina, locate and minimize risks, because they are not going to be able to stop the floods” (CV).
Vera is of the opinion that this catastrophism, in the media as well as on the part of the NGOs, is due to training deficits. More in-depth knowledge is needed. Scientific work carried out over a period of years indicates which extreme events can be attributed to CC, and which cannot, “but when these pass through the hands of the social communicators, catastrophism appears. And when nothing happens, the discourse is liquefied” (CV).
The average person sees the issue of CC as a global issue that hardly affects them, taking into account that Argentina is not one of the most affected countries: “In general, the populations do not see it as an issue that is very close to them. If it gets warmer, it rains more intensely, but nothing more” (MR). She believes in change that takes into account the relationship between farming and CC: “They ask about methane and the cows, but from there to consuming less petroleum or trying to find measures of mitigation and fostering renewable energies . . . There is no awareness in respect to what can be done” (MR).
Citizens are more aware of this sort of mitigation because the communication is more focused on reduction of emission, but the issue of adaptation is not so clear: “Before it was God’s plan, now the CC; the need for strategies of adaptation and risk management are not internalized, the general framework in which these issues need to be worked on; all the disasters catch us unprepared” (CV).
“We are not informed about the CC, but we are experiencing it all around us. In the agro-industrial sector the institutions are very committed because it affects us a great deal.” This is the point of view of many people who live in the countryside, represented by an engineer and agricultural producer, Claudia Visintina (CVI), who emphasizes the information-gathering work of the National Institute of Agricultural Technology (INTA).
From the hydroelectric sector, the problem of communication regarding CC is due to the uncritical transfer of a global discussion focused on wind energy and on the solar energy, which does not relate to the reality of Latin America. This situation has evolved from the inability of national agencies, the media, and NGOs to construct their own discourse. Of course, in this situation also influence the deficiencies of the state, which has not generated “a more objective discourse, looking more to the strategic and economic side and the competitiveness of the renewables”, according to Sergio Mogliati (SM), communication coordinator of the Hydroelectric Project Garabí-Panambí.
For Soledar Aguilar (SA), director at FLACSO’s Postgraduate Specialization on Climate Change Law and Economics (and from 2016, national director of climate change at the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development) for many years no one talked about the CC in Argentina: “It’s as if the Government had a vision contrary to the international discourse, and it has been the media who have given it relevance.” Also Lurdes Senior (LS), from Caritas Association, considers that the state has no influence in the communication regarding CC, especially in the poorer sectors.
CC has become a concept that functions like a wildcard, like the term globalization before it, for example in the case of the floods: “It is easier to explain the flood as a consequence of the CC than as a lack of city planning and the historical management of this territory” (SM). SA also considers that the connection of local weather-related events to CC in the previous three years has increased the presence of the issue in the media and the interest of the citizens as a result of its impact as a local phenomenon: “Much of the information lacked the local perspective. Statements of experts from the United States were included, or data referring to other countries. The balance of inadequate sources also led to confusion” (SA).
According to CVI, in the media one can find reliable information about CC, but it does not reach the population on a big enough scale. Without access to the articles in specialized journals or reports of the NGOs, the general public does not have information about how to act against CC, “and journalism doesn’t function as a connector between the citizens and the universities and research centers, which are very good in Argentina” (CVI). For SM, “The NGOs appear as a privileged source facing the scientists and technicians, because the latter are drier to communicate and they generate a problem of understanding for the journalists.” Senior concurs in that much research financed in the university is carried out, but the details of this research do not reach the community, above all the sectors which are more directly affected by the climatic phenomena, the poorest (LS). Scientists are not known for communicating the details of their research effectively; in the opinion of SA, they speak in terms that are too technical. In her view, there are still few studies about CC written from the perspective of the social sciences: “There is a lack of social scientists taking another look at the CC” (SA).
Fabiana Ozuna (FO), from civil association Grupo Solidario, points out that CC is not part of the public agenda except when climatological emergencies occur: “The population does not understand well what exactly the CC is; they don’t see it as being close to them.” In more profound terms, SM does not believe that the people know which sectors emit more GHG and differentiate between mitigation and adaptation. Ozuna considers that the responsibility for communication is combined: the media, the state, the schools, and the organizations of the civil society: “And we get the sensation that the information is disseminated among a very small group” (FO). Senior is of the same opinion:
In Caritas we hold workshops with external trainers, but in general, there is very little offering of open workshops about CC; they are like a specialized group that can’t be entered into; as if they thought that the rest of the society is not going to understand the issue. They only open up to the community when there are natural disasters and it appears in the media (LS).
In the poorest areas, where the population has no access to the media or Internet, it is organizations such as Caritas that are carrying out the work of communication with people who are affected by CC in their daily lives and “who before understood nature in a way that they no longer can; they know that something has changed but they don’t relate it to the CC because they don’t know what this is; the communication of expert knowledge is not reaching them” (LS).
Aguilar believes that society knows about the problem and that there is concern but are unwilling to change their habits: “The issue remains at the level of discourse, and political programs are not demanded” (SA). Mogliati thinks that the flow of communication that comes from the international agenda functions well; however, the bottom-up flow of communication (i.e., how the problem affects the territory) is failing. It is a priority that at the local level, from the municipalities, there is a need to work on communication with adequate formats and focus and as an intrinsic part of environmental management.
The way CC is discussed in the Argentinian media is not the result of any government strategy even though governments have been committed to promoting educational and public awareness programs and public participation in addressing CC and its effects and developing adequate responses.
This abandonment of the state in its role as communicator is in line with the low profile of CC in the political agenda, always taking into account that we are dealing with a developing country Non-Annex 1. This relative lack of attention has to do also with the country’s priorities; in addition, there is another series of more important questions, such as reducing poverty or problems associated with social inclusion.
Together with the existence of more pressing problems, there is a position far removed from the international discourse in the fight against CC; this position is a result of a lack of sensitivity to environmental problems in general, and in light of the misgivings of the agricultural sector, the main economic activity of the country and also the major emitter of greenhouse gases (GHG).
This institutional indifference has led to the scant media attention to CC. Once CC has been included in the political agenda, the journalists will follow up on this development. Certainly, it is the news editors who should consider giving CC-related issues more airtime and promote specialization among more journalists. First journalists must demonstrate internally the importance of CC to their editors and colleagues; from there they can function as communicators to society at large to explain what is happening to our climate.
The lack of journalistic specialization is a serious obstacle in CC communications, given that the media represent the principal source of information for the public. Without specialization, and outside the political agenda, coverage of CC in the media is relegated to international summits and to their connection with extreme climatological phenomena, principally floods. However, these impacts of CC are influenced by the scientists who accuse the media of being catastrophists and inexact in their dissemination of CC knowledge.
The function of journalists is to be certain of what they communicate to others and to articulate in lay terms what the scientist intended to communicate or of what was investigated or discovered; however, the scientists also need to make an extra effort to make themselves better understood.
On the other hand, the inadequate implementation of balanced reporting creates the false impression of a serious debate on the anthropogenic origin of CC, as has occurred in the United States. Rather, the information is trivialized when declarations of IPCC scientists are portrayed by the media as on equal footing with the opinions of non-experts and even of ordinary citizens. In this context, the NGOs have managed to obtain significant prominence in the media by assuming the initiative in the communication of CC.
CC has gained in prominence in the public agenda as of 2015 due to the change in the Argentinian government and to the more credible links with local events. The CC issue is no longer an international political process far removed from the general population; it has become something that threatens real people’s lives.
Journalists are the ones who must learn how to explain CC to the people; they need to make it clear that CC is not something that is decided, for example, by the United Nations but rather something that directly affects everyone. If we want an informed public, the media must find the appropriate language to better communicate the effects of CC on our planet.
This article was written with the help of research funding from Consolidation of Indicators of the Universidad Cardenal Herrera-CEU, CEU Universities (Valencia, Spain).
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