Among the factors that influence news decisions relative to climate change, journalistic background, professional norms, and culture are particularly important. There is empirical evidence that conservative journalists and media outlets are less likely to support the scientific consensus on climate change and more likely to promote climate change contrarianism.
Journalists with less expertise on climate change may produce less accurate coverage, investigative journalists may be more critical towards science, and journalists with a positive attitude towards the subject of climate change may make it more salient in the news.
There is also indication that climate journalists abandon the norm of balance and increasingly employ strategies of novelty, dramatization, personalization, and localization. The climate journalists also tend to synchronize their coverage to the policies of their governments.
Finally, journalists from the interpretive community around the IPCC or from science-friendly cultures are more likely to support the consensus on climate change, while journalists from collectivist cultures are more likely to endorse binding international agreements.
Candice Howarth and Amelia Sharman
Labels play an important role in opinion formation, helping to actively construct perceptions and reality, and to place individuals into context with others. As a highly complex issue, climate change invites a range of different opinions and dialogues about its causes, impacts, and action required. Much work has been published in the academic literature aiming to categorize differences of opinion about climate change using labels. However, the debate about labels acts as a distraction to more fundamental and pressing issues of policy response. In addition, the undercurrent of incivility present in the climate change debate also contributes towards a hostile and unconstructive conflict.
This is an evolving area of academic enquiry. Recent work has examined how the different labels of climate change opinions are constructed, used in practice, and portrayed differently in the public and policy spheres. The growing number of categorization systems used in the climate debate are also argued to have implications for the science-policy interface, creating a polarized debate involving many different actors and interfaces.
Moving away from unhelpful use and construction of labels that lead to incivility would enable constructive and fruitful dialogue across this polarized debate. A way forward would be to explore further the role of underlying motivations and rationales as to why these different opinions about climate change come to exist in the first place. Focusing on potential overlaps in perceptions and rationales may encourage constructive discussion amongst actors previously engaged in purposefully antagonistic exchange on climate change.
Many publics remain divided about the existence and consequences of anthropogenic climate change despite scientific consensus. A popular approach to climate change communication, and science communication more generally, is the information deficit model. The deficit model assumes that gaps between scientists and the public are a result of a lack of information or knowledge. As a remedy for this gap, the deficit model is a one-way communication model where information flows from experts to publics in an effort to change individuals’ attitudes, beliefs, or behaviors. Approaches to climate change communication that reflect the deficit model include websites, social media, mobile applications, news media, documentaries and films, books, and scientific publications and technical reports. The deficit model has been highly criticized for being overly simplistic and inaccurately characterizing the relationship between knowledge, attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors, particularly for politically polarized issues like climate change. Even so, it continues to be an integral part of climate change communication research and practice. In an effort to address the inadequacies of the deficit model, scholars and practitioners often utilize alternative forms of public engagement, including the contextual model, the public engagement model, and the lay expertise model. Each approach to public engagement carries with it a unique set of opportunities and challenges. Future work in climate change communication should explore when and how to most effectively use the models of public engagement that are available.
Luis E. Hestres and Jill E. Hopke
The past two decades have transformed how interest groups, social movement organizations, and individuals engage in collective action. Meanwhile, the climate change advocacy landscape, previously dominated by well-established environmental organizations, now accommodates new ones focused exclusively on this issue. What binds these closely related trends is the rapid diffusion of communication technologies like the internet and portable devices such as smartphones and tablets. Before the diffusion of digital and mobile technologies, collective action, whether channeled through interest groups or social movement organizations, consisted of amassing and expending resources—money, staff, time, etc.—on behalf of a cause via top-down organizations. These resource expenditures often took the form of elite persuasion: media outreach, policy and scientific expertise, legal action, and lobbying.
But broad diffusion of digital technologies has enabled alternatives to this model to flourish. In some cases, digital communication technologies have simply made the collective action process faster and more cost-effective for organizations; in other cases, these same technologies now allow individuals to eschew traditional advocacy groups and instead rely on digital platforms to self-organize. New political organizations have also emerged whose scope and influence would not be possible without digital technologies. Journalism has also felt the impact of technological diffusion. Within networked environments, digital news platforms are reconfiguring traditional news production, giving rise to new paradigms of journalism. At the same time, climate change and related issues are increasingly becoming the backdrop to news stories on topics as varied as politics and international relations, science and the environment, economics and inequality, and popular culture.
Digital communication technologies have significantly reduced the barriers for collective action—a trend that in many cases has meant a reduced role for traditional brick-and-mortar advocacy organizations and their preferred strategies. This trend is already changing the types of advocacy efforts that reach decision-makers, which may help determine the policies that they are willing to consider and adopt on a range of issues—including climate change. In short, widespread adoption of digital media has fueled broad changes in both collective action and climate change advocacy. Examples of advocacy organizations and campaigns that embody this trend include 350.org, the Climate Reality Project, and the Guardian’s “Keep It in the Ground” campaign. 350.org was co-founded in 2007 by environmentalist and author Bill McKibben and several of his former students from Middlebury College in Vermont. The Climate Reality project was founded under another name by former U.S. Vice President and Nobel Prize winner Al Gore. The Guardian’s “Keep It in the Ground” fossil fuel divestment campaign, which is a partnership with 350.org and its Go Fossil Free Campaign, was launched in March 2015 at the behest of outgoing editor-in-chief Alan Rusbridger.
Media research has historically concentrated on the many uncertainties in climate science either as a dominant discourse in media treatments measured by various forms of quantitative and qualitative content analysis or as the presence of skepticism, in its various manifestations, in political discourse and media coverage. More research is needed to assess the drivers of such skepticism in the media, the changing nature of skeptical discourse in some countries, and important country differences as to the prevalence of skepticism in political debate and media coverage. For example, why are challenges to mainstream climate science common in some Anglophone countries such as the United Kingdom, the United States, and Australia but not in other Western nations? As the revolution in news consumption via new players and platforms causes an increasingly fragmented media landscape, there are significant gaps in understanding where, why, and how skepticism appears. In particular, we do not know enough about the ways new media players depict the uncertainties around climate science and how this may differ from previous coverage in traditional and mainstream news media. We also do not know how their emphasis on visual content affects audience understanding of climate change.
Climate change is one of the most pressing issues facing humanity today. One reason is that, in recent years, it has moved from being a predominantly physical phenomenon to being simultaneously a political, social, and cultural phenomenon—and thus, a communication challenge. Current research shows that the meaning people ascribe to climate change is closely related to how it is portrayed during communication. Language plays a crucial role in this. Language not only reflects and expresses facts and observations but also influences attitudes and behavior. It helps to represent the reality but can also create new realities. In addition, the climate change debate is particularly multi-voiced, including both explicit and implicit or hidden voices representing different actors and interests. In order to know more about to what extent and in what way language matters, various linguistic and textual studies are undertaken: studies of words, of combinations of words, and of entire texts taken from different contexts, such as scientific reports, political documents, mainstream media, and new social media. Knowledge from linguistic and textual studies contributes to an improved knowledge base for societal and political actions to be undertaken in order to avoid dangerous consequences of climate change.
Jens Wolling and Dorothee Arlt
The annual climate summits (Conferences of the Parties, or COPs) are major political events that receive considerable media attention. In this way, the topic of climate change returns regularly to both the media and the political agenda. It makes sense, therefore, that communication research regards COPs as occasion to investigating how the media cover climate change. Nevertheless, this strategy has two shortcomings: On the one hand the focus on the conferences might provide a distorted picture—because of the political character of the conferences, the role of political actors and policy-related frames might be overestimated. On the other hand, the political character of the conferences is not always considered appropriately. Most research is mainly interested in the coverage on climate change in the context of the conferences and not in the political discussions taking place at the summits. Future research should address these discussions more intensively, giving more attention especially to the debates in the various online media.
Mental models are the sets of causal beliefs we “run” in our minds to infer what will happen in a given event or situation. Mental models, like other models, are useful simplifications most of the time. They can, however, lead to mistaken or misleading inferences, for example, if the analogies that inform them are misleading in some regard. The coherence and consistency of mental models a person employs to solve a given problem are a function of that person’s expertise. The less familiar and central a problem is, the less coherent and consistent the mental models brought to bear on that problem are likely to be. For problems such as those posed by anthropogenic climate change, most people are likely to recruit multiple mental models to make judgments and decisions.
Common types of mental models of climate change and global warming include: (a) a carbon emissions model, in which global warming is a result of burning fossil fuels thereby emitting CO2, and of deforestation, which both releases sequestered CO2 and decreases the possible sinks that might take CO2 out of the atmosphere; (b) a stratospheric ozone depletion mental model, which conflates stratospheric ozone depletion with global warming; (c) an air pollution mental model, in which global warming is viewed as air pollution; and (d) a weather change model, in which weather and climate are conflated. As social discourse around global warming and climate change has increased, mental models of climate change have become more complex, although not always more coherent. One such complexity is the belief that climate changes according to natural cycles and due to factors beyond human control, in addition to changes resulting from human activities such as burning fossil fuels and releasing other greenhouse gases.
As our inference engines, mental models play a central role in problem solving and subjective projections and are hence at the heart of risk perceptions and risk decision-making. However, both perceiving and making decisions about climate change and the risks thereof are affective and social processes foremost.
Methods for Assessing Journalistic Decisions, Advocacy Strategies, and Climate Change Communication Practices
Research in the field of journalistic decisions, advocacy strategies, and communication practices is very heterogeneous, comprising diverse groups of actors and research questions. Not surprisingly, various methods have been applied to assess actors’ motives, strategies, intentions, and communication behaviors. This article provides an overview of the most common methods applied—i.e., qualitative and quantitative approaches to textual analyses, interviewing techniques, observational and experimental research. After discussing the major strengths and weaknesses of each method, an outlook on future research is given. One challenge of the future study of climate change communication will be to account for its dynamics, with various actors reacting to one another in their public communication. To better approximate such dynamics in the future, more longitudinal research will be needed.
Leona Yi-Fan Su, Heather Akin, and Dominique Brossard
In recent years, increased Internet access and new communication technologies have led to the development of online methods for gathering public opinion and behavioral data related to controversial issues like climate change. To help climate-change researchers better adapt to the new era of online-based research, a review of, and methodological applications for, prevailing Internet-based research methods are provided here. Online surveys have become more common in the last decade for several reasons, including their relatively low administration cost, the pervasiveness of Internet communication, and declining response rates associated with traditional survey methods. Experiments embedded within online surveys have also become a useful tool for examining the extent to which online communications influence publics’ attitudes and behaviors. Other research methods that have gained growing attention from scholars are content analyses of online communication using big data approaches. By mining the seemingly infinite amount of user-generated content extracted from different social media sites, researchers are able to analyze issue awareness, responses to instant news, and emerging sentiments. This article provides a detailed overview of these Internet-based research methods, including their potential advantages and pitfalls, their applications in the science-communication and climate-change research fields, as well as suggestions for future research.
Visual representation has been important in communicating and constructing the environment as a focus for public and political concern since the rise of environmentalism in the 1960s. As communications media have themselves become increasingly visual with the rise of digital media, so too has visual communication become key to public debate about environmental issues, no more so than in public debate and the politics of climate change.
This chapter surveys the methods, approaches, and frameworks deployed in emerging research on public-mediated visual communication about climate change. Research on the visual mediation of climate change is itself part of the emerging field of visual environmental communication research, defined as research concerned with theorizing and empirically examining how visual imagery contributes to the increasingly multimodal public communication of the environment. Focused on a sociological understanding of the contribution that visuals make to the social, political, and cultural construction of “the environment,” visual environmental communication research analytically requires a multimodal approach, which situates analysis of the semiotic, discursive, rhetorical, and narrative characteristics of visuals in relation to the communicative, cultural, and historical contexts and in relation to the three main sites—production, content, and audiences/consumption—of communication in the public sphere.
Michael D. Jones and Holly Peterson
Despite scientific consensus about anthropogenic climate change and its potentially devastating effects on the earth, public perceptions remain resistant to some of the most important climate change science messages. Science communicators may help the public better understand, accept, and discuss climate change information by incorporating recent findings in narrative scholarship from the academic field of public policy. Narratives help people understand and communicate information by organizing information in a way that is conducive to human cognition. Through integrating research findings from the climate change science communication literature with those from the narrative policy framework’s (NPF) empirical climate change studies, five distinct suggestions for writing effective climate change stories emerge. For the NPF, policy narratives necessarily include characters and policy referents, but may also include plot, setting, policy solutions, as well as other yet-to-be identified components. The five suggestions for writing climate change stories are as follow. First, use narrative form and content when communicating climate change science. Second, identify audience characteristics and articulate the setting of the story (problem, cause, context) in specific, recent, and audience-relevant language. Third, using knowledge about audience beliefs and values, choose characters (heroes, villains, or victims) whom the audience can relate to and will care about. When casting characters, focus on relaying positive emotions associated with motivation and personal control instead of negative emotions associated with futility. Fourth, temporally link narrative components together with specific information about causality, risk, and human agency. Fifth, clearly identify the point of the story in terms of risks and benefits, emphasizing gains instead of losses, and referencing policy solutions with wide support if relevant. Employing such techniques may help correct suboptimal messaging structures that encourage cognitive resistance to scientific information, thereby facilitating information transmission to a larger segment of the population. Additionally, these techniques offer avenues for replicable research designs that may help to further advance the scientific understanding of climate change communication.
Objectivity and advocacy have been contentious topics within environmental journalism since the specialism was formed in the 1960s. Objectivity is a broad term, but has been commonly interpreted to mean the reporting of news in an impartial and unbiased way by finding and verifying facts, reporting facts accurately, separating facts from values, and giving two sides of an issue equal attention to make news reports balanced. Advocacy journalism, by contrast, presents news from a distinct point of view, a perspective that often aligns with a specific political ideology. It does not separate facts from values and is less concerned with presenting reports that are conventionally balanced. Environmental reporters have found it difficult to categorize their work as either objective or advocacy journalism, because studies show that many of them are sympathetic to environmental values even as they strive to be rigorously professional in their reporting. Journalists have struggled historically to apply the notion of balance to the reporting of climate change science, because even though the overwhelming majority of the world’s experts agree that human-driven climate change is real and will have major future impacts, a minority of scientists dispute this consensus. Reporters aimed to be fair by giving both viewpoints equal attention, a practice scholars have labeled false balance.
The reporting of climate change has changed over time, especially as the topic moved from the scientific domain to encompass also the political, social, legal, and economic realms. Objectivity and advocacy remain important guiding concepts for environmental journalism today, but they have been reconfigured in the digital era that has transformed climate change news. Objectivity in climate reporting can be viewed as going beyond the need to present both sides of an issue to the application in reports of a journalist’s trained judgment, where reporters use their training and knowledge to interpret evidence on a climate-related topic. Objectivity can also be viewed as a transparent method for finding, verifying, and communicating facts. Objectivity can also be seen as the synthesis and curation of multiple points of view. In a pluralistic media ecosystem, there are now multiple forms of advocacy journalism that present climate coverage from various points of view—various forms of climate coverage with a worldview. False balance had declined dramatically over time in mainstream reportorial sources, but it remains a pitfall for reporters to avoid in coverage of two climate change topics: the presentation of the many potential future impacts or risks and the coverage of different policy responses in a climate-challenged society.
Communication campaigns play a key role in shaping what people think, feel, and do about climate change, and help shape public agendas at the local, national, and international levels. As more people around the world gain regular access to the Internet, online and social media are becoming significant contexts in which they come into contact with—or fail to come into contact with—news, debates, action, and social input related to climate change. This makes it important to understand the campaigning that takes place online. Many actors make concerted efforts to engage publics on climate change and go online to do so. These include businesses; governments and international organizations; scientists and scientific institutions; organizations, groups and individuals in civil society; public intellectuals and political, religious and entertainment leaders. Not all are ultimately concerned with climate change or engaging publics as such. Nevertheless, most campaigns involve at least one of four goals: to inform, raise awareness, and shape public understanding about the science, problems, and politics of climate change; to change consumer and citizen behavior; to network and connect concerned publics; to visibly mobilize consumers or citizens to put pressure on decision-makers. Online climate change campaigns are an emerging phenomenon and field of study. The campaigns appeared on broad front around the turn of the millennium, and have since become increasingly complex. In addition to the elements that produce variance in offline campaigns, scholars examine the role of online and social media in how campaigners render the issues and pursue their campaigns, how publics respond, and what this means for the development of the broader public discourse. Core debates concern the capacity and impact of online campaigning in the areas of informing, activating and including publics, and the ambivalences inherent in leveraging technology to engage publics on climate change.
Participation by citizens and stakeholder groups is an important aspect of climate governance at the regional, national, international, and global levels. Increasing awareness of anthropogenic causes of climate change has fueled calls for democratic action and renewal that promise to enrich both existing and emerging forms of political engagement. Participation is not a panacea, however, and has many limitations. Three substantial critiques of participatory and deliberative approaches to climate change hinge on questions of power, authority, and opportunities for dissent. The climate system itself poses unique challenges to democratic governance. Accelerating rates of environmental change associated with climate change make past experience less applicable to current situations and complicate predicting the future even further. As such, participatory and deliberative approaches may need to be reconfigured to respond adequately to the challenges of climate change. Systems approaches broaden the scope of participation and deliberation, and innovative participatory methods are increasingly moving beyond narrow framings of climate change. As deliberative and participatory initiatives become more common, it is no longer a question of supporting or rejecting participatory forms of climate governance. Rather, questions need to address what kinds of consequences will occur and in whose interests certain participatory processes operate. Which social views and values are supported and which are marginalized, and what are the consequences of collective responses to this pressing environmental and social issue?
Deborah Lynn Guber
Despite an accumulation of scientific evidence on both the causes and consequences of climate change, U.S. public opinion on the subject has splintered sharply along party lines. While a vast majority of Democrats now believe that global warming is real, that its effects will happen within their lifetime, and that human activity is the dominant cause, Republicans have grown increasingly skeptical, creating a yawning gap that complicates efforts to communicate the urgency of the problem and the need for aggressive action.
When attitudes harden and diverge, it is often driven by the behavior of political elites, who shape the frames and mental models that people use to interpret events. Scholars have long observed that people resort instinctively to heuristics to ease the burden of making decisions, especially on issues like climate, where there is an obvious disconnect between scientific understanding and mass competence. Those cues, however, are often unreliable and prone to cognitive bias. When voters act upon signals provided by their preferred political party and by selective exposure to preferred media outlets, they may do so mechanically, with little regard for the accuracy of the evidence that they receive, or they may ignore and distort information in a way that reinforces preexisting assumptions.
In the end, beliefs about climate change are as complex as the issue itself, which suggests that awareness of the problem and an understanding of its effects will not translate automatically—or even easily—into increased concern, issue salience, or policy preferences. The “pictures in our heads,” to borrow Walter Lippmann’s famous phrase, are shaped less by factual knowledge than by a variety of other factors more difficult to control—by personal experience and assorted real-world cues (such as the weather), but also by opinion leaders, media narratives, and political rhetoric, each of which provides a competing frame of reference with the power to filter and mislead. Because climate change has become so heavily laden with values and so absorbed into partisan identity, it will be nearly impossible to build social consensus through conventional means. Once a “hard” issue for all, which seemed to demand sophisticated calculation or technical expertise, it has now become an “easy” one for many, where the reactions that it prompts are familiar, stable, and symbolic, increasingly polarized, immune to rational argument, and vulnerable to manipulation by elites.
Rachel I. McDonald
There is mounting scientific evidence linking extreme weather events such as wildfires in the western United States and Hurricane Sandy with anthropogenic climate change. However, those in developed nations that contribute the most to carbon emissions associated with anthropogenic climate change are the least likely to suffer severe consequences. This asymmetry presents a challenge for climate change communication, given that those who most need to act on climate change (the largest emitters) are those likely to be the most removed from the impacts of carbon emissions, and may thus be less convinced of the critical need to act.
The psychological distance that people perceive from the impacts of climate change may also have implications for their belief in, concern about, and willingness to act on climate change. Psychological distance is the extent to which an object is perceived as distant from the self in time, space, certainty, or social similarity. Though climate change may be perceived by those in developed nations as distant on any or all of these dimensions, temporal and geographic distance are likely to be particularly important in the context of climate change, given the global nature of the problem and the long time horizons associated with predicted impacts.
Considering the potential distancing of climate change from the self, this review examines how perceptions of temporal and geographic distance impact public opinion about climate change, in terms of belief in anthropogenic climate change, concern, and support for action. Many researchers have suggested that the distal nature of climate change is a key reason for failures to engage in widespread mitigation action. However, studies of temporal and geographic distance reveal mixed effects on belief in climate change and support for action. For example, support for climate change action varies as a function of impacts being described as affecting near versus distant victims, and these effects vary as a function of political ideology, with Democrats more likely to support action when exposed to distal victims, and Republicans more supportive when victims are closer to them. Similarly, another study indicated that perceptions of global risk are associated with policy support, whereas perceptions of risk in one’s local area is linked to individual intentions to take action. These findings reveal that it may not always be ideal to perceive climate change as psychologically close in order to promote support for climate action, and a number of studies examined here explore when psychological distance and closeness may help or hinder climate change action.
Christopher P. Borick and Barry G. Rabe
The factors that determine individual perceptions of climate change have been a focus of social science research for many years. An array of studies have found that individual-level characteristics, such as partisan affiliation, ideological beliefs, educational attainment, and race, affect one’s views on the existence of global warming, as well as the levels of concern regarding this matter. But in addition to the individual-level attributes that have been shown to affect perceptions of climate change, a growing body of literature has found that individual experiences with weather can shape a variety of views and beliefs that individuals maintain regarding climate change. These studies indicate that direct experiences with extreme weather events and abnormal seasonal temperature and precipitation levels can affect the likelihood that an individual will perceive global warming to be occurring, and in some cases their policy preferences for addressing the problem. The emerging literature on this relationship indicates that individuals are more likely to express skepticism regarding the existence of global warming when experiencing below average temperatures or above average snowfall in the period preceding an interview on their views. Conversely, higher temperatures and various extreme weather events can elevate acceptance of global warming’s existence.
A number of studies also find that individuals are more likely to report weather conditions such as drought and extreme heat affected their acceptance of global warming when such conditions were occurring in their region. For example, the severe drought that has encompassed much of the western United States between 2005 and 2016 has increasingly been cited by residents of the region as the primary reason for their belief that climate change is occurring. What remains unclear at this point is whether the weather conditions are actually changing opinions regarding climate change or if the preexisting opinions are causing individuals to see the weather events in a manner consistent with those opinions.
Notably, the relationship between weather experiences and beliefs regarding climate change appear to be multidirectional in nature. Numerous studies have found that not only do weather experiences shape the views of individuals regarding global warming, but also individuals’ views on the existence of global warming can affect their perceptions of the weather that they have experienced. In particular, recent research has shown that individuals who are skeptical about the existence of global warming are less likely to report the weather recorded in their area accurately than individuals who believe global warming is happening.
Emily K. Vraga
Political participation on the issue of climate change can encompass many different forms of individual and collective actions designed to affect governmental policies. At the most basic level, issue-specific political participation occurs when individuals directly attempt to influence governmental actors or policies on climate change—most notably by voting, but also through donating money and communicating with public officials. These types of participation tend to be relatively rare, limited to a small subset of deeply committed individuals. In contrast, personal action on climate change is more widely dispersed, especially if one includes impact-oriented actions (e.g., actions that influence the environment but are primarily undertaken for other reasons, like convenience or saving money) rather than purely intention-based actions, which occur when individuals adopt behaviors with the goal of addressing climate change. Additionally, opportunities to engage in expressive participation, largely online, create new spaces for individuals to build networks to engage in political action, as well as potentially to reach unengaged groups that are less likely to seek out information on the issue.
A number of forces can contribute to whether an individual chooses to participate on the issue of climate change. Individual characteristics, like perceptions of impersonal and personal risks associated with climate change, knowledge of the issues, and environmental values all tend to produce people more likely to participate—especially when these attitudes become part of an individual’s identity as an opinion leader or activist. As a global issue, social norms play a particularly powerful role; when individuals believe others support and are likely to take action themselves, it tends to foster a sense of efficacy that such behaviors will be effective in producing change. Individual choices about media sources also intersect with media coverage and framing of the issue to influence perceptions of the issue and likelihood of taking action. Such media framing can exacerbate or mitigate the heightened political polarization on the issue of climate change that has erected barriers to effective political action in many democratic societies in recent years, most notably in the United States. New forms of political participation may create opportunities to encourage more participation on the issue of climate change, but they also raise ethical questions about inequality and participatory divides that privilege some groups over others.
Climate change specifically and the environment more generally are becoming increasingly central features in much of contemporary persuasive messages. From World Wildlife Fund public service announcements showing the Earth as a melting scoop of ice cream to advertisements for environmentally friendly hybrid cars set against backdrops of lush, green fields, climate change and the environment are closely linked to strategic communication and consumer behavior. This growing focus on the connection between climate change and consumption represents a wide and varied field of study, underscoring the ways in which the two can at once be symbiotic and yet also antagonistic.
Meaningful academic attention to environmental cues in advertising can be thought of as occurring in two waves. In the first wave, peaking in the 1990s, research was concerned primarily with content analyses of advertising containing environmental appeals. Questions about deceptive environmental claims, often referred to as greenwashing, were a primary concern during this phase. Climate change specifically was not a central element, and instead, issues of environmental preservation and conservation dominated. In the second wave, which emerged in the late 2000s and continues unabated, researchers have broadened their focus to examine not only how the environment was depicted in advertising messages but also how audiences understood them. Attention was paid to message factors, like framing, source cues, and visual depictions, as well as individual-level factors, such as environmental concern, political ideology and regulatory focus.
While concerns about greenwashing and deceptive advertising continue to plague green advertising, a collection of new critiques has emerged, including questions about the implications of emphasizing consumer behavior as a source of climate change mitigation, of relying on nature as a commodity to be sold and used, and of engaging individuals as consumers rather than as citizens in attempts to effect environmental change.