In debates surrounding policy options for mitigating greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, economists of various political stripes are near unanimous in their advocacy of putting a price on carbon, whether through a tax or emissions trading program. Due to the visible costs imposed on industry and consumers, however, these policies have been resisted by carbon-intensive industries and by an ideologically divided public, producing incentives for vote-seeking politicians to avoid implementing comprehensive and stringent carbon prices within their own borders. In this highly politicized environment, and considering the more recent diffusion of market-based instruments across political jurisdictions around the world, researchers have sought to identify the conditions most favorable to implementing carbon taxes and cap-and-trade programs, the correlates of public support for these policies, and the extent to which different communication strategies may help build public support. How do experts, political leaders, and members of the public understand these policy instruments, and what specific approaches have been most successful in persuading policy makers and the public to support a price on carbon? In places that have yet to implement a carbon price, what can communication strategists learn from existing research and the experience of other jurisdictions where such policies have been successfully implemented? In places where carbon taxes or carbon cap-and-trade programs exist, how are the benefits of these policies best communicated to ensure the durability of carbon pricing policies over time?
Matthew A. Shapiro, Toby Bolsen, and Anna McCaghren Fleming
Public opinion plays a central role in determining the feasibility of efforts to transform energy systems in the coming years, yet scholarship on communication effects and public opinion about clean energy and energy efficiency seems to have expanded only relatively recently. There is a growing body of work that explores how targeted and strategically framed messages affect individuals’ beliefs and motivations to act on matters affecting household energy choices as well as energy policies. One must attend particularly to the principal communication-based factors that shape the public’s understanding of clean energy sources and promote efficiencies in energy use. To better understand the communication vehicles for improving both household energy efficiency and conservation, two research foci are most relevant: (1) field experiments that primarily assess how household energy consumption shifts after receiving energy consumption reports and (2) surveys/laboratory experiments that focus on the nuances of energy-related communications, paying particular attention to the role of politics and ideology. This bimodal classification of clean energy and efficiency communication research genres is not exhaustive but can be synthesized into two major contributions. First, providing households with information about specific benefits that would result from a greater reliance on clean energy may increase support for its development and move individuals toward energy efficiency outcomes; however, exposure to counter-messages that emphasize costs associated with clean energy and the associated policies can negate the effects of pro-clean energy messages. Second, there is still no reprieve from the politicization of energy, and thus the role of partisanship and motivated reasoning must be accounted for when assessing how individuals modify their decision-making processes regarding energy efficiency.
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Climate Science. Please check back later for the full article.
The surge in unconventional oil and natural gas extraction by way of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) techniques—and the associated health, environmental, economic, and social impacts that have captured public interest—comes at a time of increased attention to the curtailment of fossil fuel use to address climate change. It is important to study public perception of unconventional energy development, as public support or opposition has important implications for research on climate change perception and communication.
Reviewing relevant research in this area reveals two overarching themes. First, many of the factors that shape public views on unconventional energy development also help influence climate change concern and awareness, including (a) psychological factors like political ideology; (b) characteristics of the information environment, including news media coverage; (c) characteristics of location, including proximity to areas of active development; and (d) moral and ethical considerations, including the geographic and temporal distribution of risks and benefits.
Second, efforts to highlight climate change as an energy development impact have increased in recent years. The extent to which natural gas (in particular) is considered a cleaner “bridge fuel” to a low-carbon future or a “dirty” fossil fuel that will hamper a transition to low-carbon energy sources will arguably serve as a valuable strategy for climate change engagement.
Andrew J. Hoffman
Within the corporate sector, climate change represents an unfolding market shift, one that is driven by policy but also by pressures from a variety of market constituents such as consumers, suppliers, buyers, insurance companies, banks, and others. The shift takes place in both mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions and adaptation to the physical effects of a changing climate. It is manifest in shifts in market demand, cost of capital, operational efficiency, energy efficiency, access to raw materials within supply chains, and other issues of business concern. In fact, when viewed in this way, business leaders and stakeholders can be agnostic about the science of climate change and still see it as a business issue. In the face of a market shift, successful companies must innovate. And as in any market shift, the implications of addressing climate change are not uniform; the burden will not fall evenly. There are both risks and opportunities; there will be both winners and losers. Certain companies, industries, and sectors will be impacted more than others. This article will discuss the ways in which climate change poses market risk and the strategic responses that companies might adopt to respond to and mitigate that risk. This focus is critically important as the solutions to climate change must come from the market. The market is the most powerful institution on earth, and business is the most powerful entity within it. The market compels business to make the goods and services we rely upon: the clothes we wear, the food we eat, the forms of mobility we use, and the buildings we live and work in. If the market does not lead the way toward solutions for a carbon-neutral world, there will be no solutions.
Mark Morrison, Donald W. Hine, and Steven D'Alessandro
Communication with farmers about climate change has proven to be difficult, with relatively low acceptance of anthropogenic climate change or the idea that climate change will negatively affect agriculture. Many farmers have been impervious to climate change communications because of the nature of farming, their worldviews, and the controversies about climate change in the media. Segmentation studies from the agriculture and natural resource management literatures provide evidence of homogeneous farmer groups internationally with respect to climate change attitudes and behaviors in a farming context. Understanding these segments—including their values, beliefs, and behaviors—is important for developing tailored and targeted communications approaches. Based on understanding of commonly observed farmer segments, it is possible to tailor communication strategies to better engage with segments of concern, including which message to use, appropriate sources, as well as alternative communication techniques based on participatory approaches and use of the arts. For certain segments, discussion about human-induced climate change should be avoided given that it is contentious and not critical for how farmers should respond to climate change. Theoretical frameworks from psychology and marketing—such as the theory of planned behavior, the attitude-to-behavior process model, the motivation and opportunity and determinants (MODE) model, motivation to avoid harm, and the elaboration likelihood model—can also be used to inform the design of communication strategies for engaging with farmers. However, a careful analysis of farmer segments, their worldviews, their beliefs, and their position in the consumer decision-making process suggests that the recommendations from these theoretical models should not be implemented uniformly across farmer segments. Rather, the various theoretical models provide a number of strategies that need to be selectively applied based on knowledge of the target segment. While use of theory and understanding of segments will help to improve communications with farmers, it is apparent that changing the beliefs of farmers in some segments about the need to respond to climate change will require more than simply increasing the quantity or quality of communications. Engaging farmers in these segments requires a much richer information set and a much greater effort to show farmers how they should be responding to climate variability and change using practical demonstrations and participatory approaches.
John Wihbey and Bud Ward
The relationship between scientific experts and news media producers around issues of climate change has been a complicated and often contentious one, as the slow-moving and complex story has frequently challenged, and clashed with, journalistic norms of newsworthiness, speed, and narrative compression. Even as climate scientists have become more concerned by their evidence-based findings involving projected risks, doubts and confusion over communications addressing those risks have increased. Scientists increasingly have been called upon to speak more clearly and forcefully to the public through news media about evidence and risks—and to do so in the face of rapidly changing news media norms that only complicate those communications. Professional science and environment journalists—whose ranks have been thinned steadily by media industry financial pressures—have meanwhile come under more scrutiny in terms of their understanding; accuracy; and, at times, perceived bias.
A number of important organizations have recognized the need to educate and empower a broad range of scientists and journalists to be more effective at communicating about the complexities of climate science and about the societal and economic impacts of a warming climate. For example, organizations such as Climate Communication have been launched to support scientists in their dealings with media, while the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change itself has continued to focus on the communication of climate science. The Earth Journalism Network, Society of Environmental Journalists, Poynter Institute, and the International Center for Journalists have worked to build media capacity globally to cover climate change stories. Efforts at Stanford University, the University of Oxford, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard University, and the University of Rhode Island sponsor programming and fellowships that in part help bolster journalism in this area. Through face-to-face workshops and online efforts, The Yale Project on Climate Change Communication has sought to link the media and science communities. Meanwhile, powerful, widely read sites and blogs such as “Dot Earth,” hosted by the New York Times, Climate Central, Real Climate, The Conversation, and Climate Progress have fostered professional dialogue, greater awareness of science, and called attention to reporting and communications issues.
Journalists and scientists have had ongoing conversations as part of the regular publication and reporting processes, and professional conferences and events bring the two communities together. Issues that continue to animate these discussions include conveying the degree to which climate science can be said to be “settled” and how to address uncertainty.
Through some of these capacity-building efforts, news media have become increasingly aware of audience dynamics including how citizens respond to pessimistic reports, or “doom and gloom,” versus solutions-oriented reports. Professional dialogue has also revolved around the ethical dimensions of conveying a story at the level of global importance. Still, with issues of climate change communication on display for more than two decades now, certain tensions and dynamics persist. Notably, journalists seek clarity from scientists, while climate change experts and advocates for and against taking climate action often continue to demand that journalists resist the temptation to oversimplify or hype the latest empirical findings, while at the same time urging that journalists do not underestimate potential climate risks.
Ishani Mukherjee and Michael Howlett
Policy communication and the resulting influence that information has on policy decision-makers is an especially pertinent topic when it comes to problems of climate change. Notorious for its complexity, uncertainty, and divergence of viewpoints, climate change has earned the title of being the major “wicked” or “super-wicked” problem of our times. A proliferation of expertise, interests, and capacities mark the climate change policymaking landscape and this density of players warrants an advanced framework to understand the ways in which the variety of climate-pertinent knowledge is communicated to policymakers. Moving beyond undifferentiated “two-communities” models of knowledge utilization in policymaking which limit the discussion to the bilateral interactions between knowledge experts or “producers” and information “consumers” of the public sector, this article explores the concept of a policy advisory system, which embodies the different sets of influence that various policy actors can have during policy decision-making and how communication between and among actors is a significant aspect of climate change policymaking. The concept of policy advisory systems is an important new development in the policy studies literature and one that is analytically very applicable to climate policy contexts. Suitably generalizable across representative policy settings, policy advisory systems are comprised of distinct groups of actors who are engaged in the definition of policy problems, the articulation of policy solutions, or the matching of policy problems to solutions. We explore how individual members of these separate sets of actors—namely the epistemic community, which is occupied in discourses about policy problems; the instrument constituencies which define policy instruments; and the advocacy coalitions which compete to have their choice of policy alternatives adopted—interact and communicate with policymakers across climate change policy activities.
Communicating about climate change with religious groups should recognize the diversity incorporated in the term “religion.” Diversity in practice, institutional forms, belief systems, values, and core narratives mean that climate communication cannot be formulaic application of communication techniques and social psychology tweaked for spirituality. Because all people see phenomena like climate change through the prisms of their existing ideas, values, influence of significant others, sociostructural position, and personal experience, and expect these to be respected, communication with religious groups should respect the particular religious tradition and draw on narratives and language that are meaningful to the particular faith. Emphasis is placed on the role of religion as a social space wherein people come together, form ideas, and act collectively. Social networks and established practice are likely to be as significant as the influence of a religious leader although such elite influence can also be important. Roman Catholic Pope Francis’ recent teaching document on the environment, Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home, serves as one example of communication about climate change. An understanding of the cultural assumptions, narratives, and framings relevant to a particular group is essential regardless of whether the people are secular or religious.
Eric Chu and Todd Schenk
Cities are important venues for climate change communication, where global rhetoric, national directives, local priorities, and media discourses interact to advance mitigation, adaptation, and resilience outcomes on the ground. Urban decision makers are often directly accountable to their electorates, responsible for the tasks most relevant to advancing concrete action on climate change, and flexible in pursuing various public engagement programs. However, many cities are designing climate policies without robust downscaled climate projections or clear capacity and support mechanisms. They are often constrained by fragmented governance arrangements, limited resources, and jurisdictional boundaries. Furthermore, policies often fall short in responding to the disparate needs of heterogeneous urban populations. Despite these constraints, cities across the global North and South are innovating with various communication tools to facilitate public awareness, political engagement, context-specific understanding, and action around climate change. These tools range from traditional popular media to innovative participatory processes that acknowledge the interests of different stakeholders, facilitate engagement across institutional boundaries, and address persistent scientific uncertainty through information coproduction and knowledge reflexivity. By selectively employing these tools, local governments and their partners are able to translate climate science into actionable mitigation, adaptation, and resilience plans; prioritize decision making while taking into account the multiscaled nature of urban infrastructures and service provisions; and design adaptable and flexible communication processes that are socially equitable and inclusive over the long term.
Jill E. Hopke and Luis E. Hestres
Divestment is a socially responsible investing tactic to remove assets from a sector or industry based on moral objections to its business practices. It has historical roots in the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa. The early-21st-century fossil fuel divestment movement began with climate activist and 350.org co-founder Bill McKibben’s Rolling Stone article, “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math.” McKibben’s argument centers on three numbers. The first is 2°C, the international target for limiting global warming that was agreed upon at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change 2009 Copenhagen conference of parties (COP). The second is 565 Gigatons, the estimated upper limit of carbon dioxide that the world population can put into the atmosphere and reasonably expect to stay below 2°C. The third number is 2,795 Gigatons, which is the amount of proven fossil fuel reserves. That the amount of proven reserves is five times that which is allowable within the 2°C limit forms the basis for calls to divest.
The aggregation of individual divestment campaigns constitutes a movement with shared goals. Divestment can also function as “tactic” to indirectly apply pressure to targets of a movement, such as in the case of the movement to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline in the United States. Since 2012, the fossil fuel divestment movement has been gaining traction, first in the United States and United Kingdom, with student-led organizing focused on pressuring universities to divest endowment assets on moral grounds.
In partnership with 350.org, The Guardian launched its Keep it in the Ground campaign in March 2015 at the behest of outgoing editor-in-chief Alan Rusbridger. Within its first year, the digital campaign garnered support from more than a quarter-million online petitioners and won a “campaign of the year” award in the Press Gazette’s British Journalism Awards. Since the launch of The Guardian’s campaign, “keep it in the ground” has become a dominant frame used by fossil fuel divestment activists.
Divestment campaigns seek to stigmatize the fossil fuel industry. The rationale for divestment rests on the idea that fossil fuel companies are financially valued based on their resource reserves and will not be able to extract these reserves with a 2°C or lower climate target. Thus, their valuation will be reduced and the financial holdings become “stranded assets.” Critics of divestment have cited the costs and risks to institutional endowments that divestment would entail, arguing that to divest would go against their fiduciary responsibility. Critics have also argued that divesting from fossil fuel assets would have little or no impact on the industry. Some higher education institutions, including Princeton and Harvard, have objected to divestment as a politicization of their endowments. Divestment advocates have responded to this concern by pointing out that not divesting is not a politically neutral act—it is, in fact, choosing the side of fossil fuel corporations.
Emma Lundberg, Caroline Gottschalk Druschke, Bridie McGreavy, Sara Randall, Tyler Quiring, Alison Fisher, Francesca Soluri, Hannah Dallas, David Hart, and Kevin Gardner
As the global imperative for sustainable energy builds and with hydroelectricity proposed as one aspect of a sustainable energy profile, public discourse reflects the complex and competing discourses and social-ecological trade-offs surrounding hydropower and dams. Is hydropower “green”? Is it “sustainable”? Is it “renewable”? Does hydropower provide a necessary alternative to fossil fuel dependence? Can the ecological consequences of hydropower be mitigated? Is this the end of the hydropower era, or is it simply the beginning of a new chapter? These pressing questions circulate through discussions about hydropower in a time of changing climate, globally declining fisheries, and aging infrastructure, lending a sense of urgency to the many decisions to be made about the future of dams.
The United States and European Union (EU) saw an enduring trend of dam building from the Industrial Revolution through the mid-1970s. In these countries, contemporary media discussions about hydropower are largely focused on removing existing hydropower dams and retrofitting existing dams that offer hydropower potential. Outside of these contexts, increasing numbers of countries are debating the merits of building new large-scale hydropower dams that, in many developing countries, may have disproportionate impacts on indigenous communities that hold little political or economic power. As a result, news and social media attention to hydropower outside the United States/EU often focus on activist efforts to oppose hydropower and on its complex consequences for ecosystems and communities alike.
Despite hydropower’s wide range of ecological, economic, and social trade-offs, and the increasing urgency of global conversations about hydropower, relatively little work in communication studies explores news media, social media, or public debate in the context of hydropower and dam removal. In an effort to expand the scope of communication studies, after reviewing existing work the attention here shifts to research focused more broadly on human dimensions of hydropower. These dual bodies of work focus on small and large dams from Europe to the Americas to Asia and have applied a range of methods for analyzing media coverage of the hydropower debate. Those studies are reviewed here, with an emphasis on the key themes that emerge across studies—including trust, communication, local engagement, and a call to action for interdisciplinary approaches, intertwined with conflict, conflict resolution, and social and ecological resistance. The conclusion offers an original case brief that elucidates emerging themes from our ongoing research about hydropower and dam removal in the United States, and suggests future directions for research.
Shirley S. Ho
In comparison to fossil fuels that emit greenhouse gases, nuclear power plants are a cleaner energy source that could help to mitigate the problems of climate change. Despite this, the general public often associates nuclear energy with risks that include nuclear accidents, nuclear waste contamination, nuclear weapons proliferation, and many others. People’s experience with the 1979 Three Mile Island incident in Pennsylvania and the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster in Ukraine have caused a sharp decline in public support for nuclear energy over the past few decades. In addition, media images of the 2011 Fukushima-Daichii nuclear accident are still fresh in the minds of the public. These now iconic media images and portrayals have perpetuated a perception of nuclear energy as a risky technology.
Against these backdrops, scientists, communication practitioners and other key stakeholders increasingly face an uphill struggle to communicate about nuclear energy as a possible strategy for addressing climate change. Though the general public may reluctantly accept nuclear energy for climate change mitigation, research suggests that messages emphasizing the benefits of nuclear power for energy security and economic growth appear to have greater impact on public acceptance of the technology. Furthermore, public perception of nuclear energy is shaped by a host of other factors such as trust in nuclear governing institutions, knowledge, political inclinations, geographical proximity, and socio-demographic variables. At the same time, nuclear experts and the general public differ in their perceptions of risk, in nature and strength, relative to nuclear energy. Understanding these key differences between the experts and the public, and how beliefs, values, and perceptions influence public acceptance of nuclear energy is necessary to formulate effective public communication and engagement strategies.
Tarla Rai Peterson and Cristi C. Horton
Transitioning to renewable energy systems requires changing the ways people interact with energy as well as technological change. This shift involves social changes that include modifications in norms, policies, and governance. Multiple sociopolitical factors shape the likelihood that solar energy will emerge as a significant component in energy systems around the world. This article describes ways climate change communication may be strategically employed to encourage substantial deployment of solar installations and other renewable energy resources as part of the innovations that contribute to transition and transformation of current energy systems. Understanding how communication may contribute to integration of more solar power into energy systems begins with examining current public awareness of and engagement with solar energy, as well as other low-carbon energy resources. With this foundation, climate change communication can contribute to research, development, and deployment of solar energy installations, by facilitating strategic alignment of solar energy with existing interests and preferences of its stakeholders. These stakeholders include elites who fear that shifting the energy system away from fossil fuels threatens their political influence and financial profits, energy workers who fear it will bring further reductions in already reduced wages, and those who perceive fossil fuels as the only alternative to opportunistic mixtures of animal waste and biofuel. Climate change communicators have the unenviable task of helping all of these groups imagine and participate in transitioning energy systems toward greater reliance on renewable energy sources, such as Sun. This article briefly describes the development and implementation solar energy technologies, and suggests how strategic communication may contribute to further implementation. It concludes with examples of differential deployment trajectories of solar energy in the Navajo Nation and Germany. These cases demonstrate that neither the endowment of natural resources nor the material energy needs of a location fully explain energy decisions. Indeed, social dimensions such as culture, economics, and governance play equally important roles. This provides numerous opportunities for climate change communicators to strategically highlight the ways that solar energy responds to immediate needs and desires, while simultaneously contributing to climate change mitigation.
Graham Dixon and Yanni Ma
Addressing climate change requires attention to a variety of communication contexts. While attention has been paid to top-down approaches aimed at individual-level behavior and the beliefs of the public at large, organizations in both the for-profit and nonprofit sectors are increasingly recognized as integral players in solving the climate change challenges that we face today. For instance, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) characterize the commercial sector as having the highest potential to reduce emissions by 2020, suggesting that meaningful actions aimed at climate change mitigation must come from within organizations. However, the diverse nature of organizational communication poses challenges toward effective climate change communication. On the one hand, climate change communication can occur within organizations, where members’ individual behaviors and beliefs can have a significant impact on an organization’s energy consumption. On the other hand, organizations can communicate environmental issues directly to stakeholders and the public at large—though communication can be complicated by the fact that some organizations benefit from instilling doubt in the science of climate change. The complex nature of organizational-based climate change communication allows members of the for-profit and nonprofit sectors to play an important role in cultivating divergent views of climate change. Future research can help promulgate climate change-related awareness and action within organizational contexts.
Susanne C. Moser
Communicating the impacts of climate change and possible adaptive responses is a relatively recent branch of the larger endeavor of climate change communication. This recent emergence, in large part, is driven by the fact that the impacts and policy/planning/practice responses have only recently emerged in more widespread public consciousness and discourse, and thus in scholarly treatment. This article will first describe the critical and precarious moment of when impacts and adaptation communication becomes important; it will then summarize proposed approaches to do so effectively; and discuss key challenges confronting climate change communication going forward. These challenges may well be unique in the field of communication, in that they either uniquely combine previously encountered difficulties into novel complexities or are truly unprecedented. To date, scholarship and experience in climate, environmental, or risk communication provide little guidance on how to meet these challenges of communicating effectively with diverse publics and decision makers in the face of long-term degradation of the life support system of humanity. The article will conclude with an attempt to offer research and practice directions, fit at least to serve as appropriately humble attitudes toward understanding and engaging fellow humans around the profound risks of an utterly uncertain and far-from-assured future.
Karen Akerlof, Michelle Covi, and Elizabeth Rohring
Three quarters of the world’s large cities are located on coasts. As climate change causes oceans to warm and expand, and triggers vast influxes of water from melting ice sheets and glaciers, by the end of the 21st century, as many as 650 million people globally may be below sea levels or subject to recurrent flooding. Human beings have always faced threats from coastal storms and flooding, but never have so many of us and so much of our societal infrastructure been in harm’s way. With entire nations facing forced emigration, international online media are framing sea level rise as a human rights concern. Yet sea level rise suffers from generally low media attention and salience as a public issue. Coastal communities tasked with developing adaptation strategies are approaching engagement through new forms of risk visualization and models of environmental decision making. As a subfield of climate communication that addresses a variety of other anthropogenic and natural phenomena, sea level rise communication also calls upon the less politicized field of natural hazards risk communication. This review explores media analyses, audience research, and evaluation of communication outreach and engagement, finding many remaining gaps in our understanding of sea level rise communication.
Melinda R. Weathers, Edward Maibach, and Matthew Nisbet
Effective public communication and engagement have played important roles in ameliorating and managing a wide range of public health problems including tobacco and substance use, cardiovascular disease, HIV/AIDS, vaccine preventable diseases, sudden infant death syndrome, and automobile injuries and fatalities. The public health community must harness what has been learned about effective public communication to alert and engage the public and policy makers about the health threats of climate change. This need is driven by three main factors.
First, people’s health is already being harmed by climate change, and the magnitude of this harm is almost certain to get much worse if effective actions are not soon taken to limit climate change and to help communities successfully adapt to unavoidable changes in their climate. Therefore, public health organizations and professionals have a responsibility to inform communities about these risks and how they can be averted.
Second, historically, climate change public engagement efforts have focused primarily on the environmental dimensions of the threat. These efforts have mobilized an important but still relatively narrow range of the public and policy makers. In contrast, the public health community holds the potential to engage a broader range of people, thereby enhancing climate change understanding and decision-making capacity among members of the public, the business community, and government officials.
Third, many of the actions that slow or prevent climate change, and that protect human health from the harms associated with climate change, also benefit health and well-being in ways unrelated to climate change. These “cobenefits” to societal action on climate change include reduced air and water pollution, increased physical activity and decreased obesity, reduced motor-vehicle–related injuries and death, increased social capital in and connections across communities, and reduced levels of depression. Therefore, from a public health perspective, actions taken to address climate change are a “win-win” in that in addition to responsibly addressing climate change, they can help improve public health and well-being in other ways as well.
Over the past half decade, U.S.-based researchers have been investigating the factors that shape public views about the health risks associated with climate change, the communication strategies that motivate support for actions to reduce these risks, and the practical implications for public health organizations and professionals who seek to effectively engage individuals and their communities. This research serves as a model for similar work that can be conducted across country settings and international publics. Until only recently, the voices of public health experts have been largely absent from the public dialogue on climate change, a dialogue that is often erroneously framed as an “economy versus the environment” debate. Introducing the public health voice into the public dialogue can help communities see the issue in a new light, motivating and promoting more thoughtful decision making.
Hartmut Wessler, Julia Lück, and Antal Wozniak
The annual United Nations Climate Change Conferences, officially called Conferences of the Parties (COPs), are the main drivers of media attention to climate change around the world. Even more so than the Rio and Rio+20 “Earth Summits” (1992 and 2012) and the meetings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the COPs offer multiple access points for the communicative engagement of all kinds of stakeholders. COPs convene up to 20,000 people in one place for two weeks, including national delegations, civil society and business representatives, scientific organizations, representatives from other international organizations, as well as journalists from around the world. While intergovernmental negotiation under the auspices of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) constitutes the core of COP business, these multifunctional events also offer arenas for civil society mobilization, economic lobbying, as well as expert communication and knowledge transfer.
The media image of the COPs emerges as a product of distinct networks of coproduction constituted by journalists, professional communicators from non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and national delegations. Production structures at the COPs are relatively globalized with uniform access rules for journalists from all over the world, a few transnational news agencies dominating distribution of both basic information and news visuals, and dense localized interaction between public relations (PR) professionals and journalists. Photo opportunities created by globally coordinated environmental NGOs meet the selection of journalists much better than the visual strategies pursued by delegation spokespeople. This gives NGOs the upper hand in the visual framing contest, whereas in textual framing NGOs are sidelined and national politicians clearly dominate media coverage. The globalized production environment leads to relatively similar patterns of basic news framing in national media coverage of the COPs that reflect overarching ways of approaching the topic: through a focus on problems and victims; a perspective on civil society demands and solutions; an emphasis on conflict in negotiations; or a focus on the benefits of clean energy production. News narratives, on the other hand, give journalists from different countries more leeway in adapting COP news to national audiences’ presumed interests and preoccupations.
Even after the adoption of a new global treaty at COP21 in Paris in 2015 that specifies emission reduction targets for all participating countries, the annual UN Climate Change Conferences are likely to remain in the media spotlight. Future research could look more systematically at the impact of global civil society and media in monitoring the national contributions to climate change mitigation introduced in the Paris Agreement and shoring up even more ambitious commitments needed to reach the goal of keeping global warming well below 2 degrees Celsius as compared to pre-industrial levels.
Environmental organizations have been critically important in publicizing and supplying arguments about climate change, just as with the other environmental issues facing contemporary societies. In their campaigns and activism, environmental groups need to be able to make influential and widely circulated claims about the state of the natural world or the ecological impact of human activities. To do this, they have to “manage” their relationship to science. Environmentalists (in contrast to many other campaigners) are obliged to be science communicators because the convincingness of their message depends on the underlying presumption that their claims have a basis in factual, scientific accuracy.
Facing the science and communication challenges of climate change, environmentalists have often found their role to be an unusual one. Unlike in most other ecological campaign areas, they have been committed to defending or bolstering mainstream scientific opinion about the nature and causes of climate change. Nonetheless, they have sought ways of distancing themselves from some of the policy and technological options apparently favored by leading scientific figures. And they have pioneered approaches based more on long-term investment strategies and normative values which, to some degree, allow them to sidestep difficulties associated with the adoption of a subordinate role in the science communication arena.
Content analysis is one of the most frequently used methods in climate change communication research. Studies implementing content analysis investigate how climate change is presented in mass media or other communication content.
Quantitative content analysis develops a standardized codebook to code content systematically, which then allows for statistical analysis. Qualitative analysis relies on interpretative methods and a closer reading of the material, often using hermeneutic approaches and taking linguistic features of the text more into account than quantitative analysis. While quantitative analysis—particularly if conducted automatically—can comprise larger samples, qualitative analysis usually entails smaller samples, as it is more detailed. Different types of material—whether online content, campaign material, or climate change imagery—bring about different challenges when studied through content analysis that need to be considered when drawing samples of the material for content analysis. To evaluate the quality of a content analysis measures for reliability and validity are used.
Key themes in content analyses of climate change communication are the media’s attention to climate change and the different points of view on global warming as an issue being present in the media coverage. Challenges for content analysis as a method for assessing climate change communication arise from the lack of comparability of the various studies that exist. Multimodal approaches are developed to better adhere to both textual and visual content simultaneously in content analyses of climate change communication.