Anthony Leiserowitz and Nicholas Smith
Affective imagery, or connotative meanings, play an important role in shaping public risk perceptions, policy support, and broader responses to climate change. These simple “top-of-mind” associations and their related affect help reveal how diverse audiences understand and interpret global warming. And as a relatively simple set of measures, they are easily incorporated into representative surveys, making it possible to identify, measure, and monitor how connotative meanings are distributed throughout a population and how they change over time. Affective image analysis can help identify distinct interpretive communities of like-minded individuals who share their own set of common meanings and interpretations. The images also provide a highly sensitive measure of changes in public discourse. As scientists, political elites, advocates, and the media change the frames, images, icons, and emotions they use to communicate climate change, they can influence the interpretations of the larger public. Likewise, as members of the public directly or vicariously experience specific events or learn more about climate risks, they construct their own connotative meanings, which can in turn influence larger currents of public discourse. This article traces the development of affective imagery analysis, reviews the studies that have implemented it, examines how affective images influence climate change risk perceptions and policy support, and charts several future directions of research.
Social scientists and media critics have often been befuddled about how and why news coverage of important issues takes the shapes that it does. While some issues seem to behave according to well-established patterns, others don’t. The issue of climate change is one that has been explained in numerous ways, often from a cyclical perspective. This perspective suggests that news attention naturally varies up and down, often cued by certain focusing events that draw attention for a time, after which attention wanes again. These observations are usually matched with the perspective that attention should normatively not be cyclical, that the issue is one that deserves continuous attention until it is resolved.
All of this is in the context that there are significant doubts about the objective role of newsmakers in this process. Climate change is an issue that has cut across a period of news evolution in which objectively neutral news has become even less prominent than it once was, if it ever was. News outlets with specific ideological agendas, a plethora of bloggers and websites with an axe to grind, and a variety of conspiracy theories about climate have obscured how news can even hope to cover this issue. With “belief” in climate change now becoming an important token of how one identifies oneself politically, we can wonder whether the issue can ever receive a fair hearing from a scientific perspective.
Linda S. Prokopy, Wendy-Lin Bartels, Gary Burniske, and Rebecca Power
Agricultural extension has evolved over the last 200 years from a system of top-down dissemination of information from experts to farmers to a more complex system, in which a diversity of knowledge producers and farmers work together to co-produce information. Following a detailed history of the evolution of extension in the United States, this article describes an example from the southeastern United States that illustrates how innovative institutional arrangements enable land-grant universities to actively engage farmers and extension agents as key partners in the knowledge generation process. A second U.S. example shows that private retailers are more influential than extension in influencing large-scale farmers’ farm management decisions in the midwestern United States. However, these private retailers trust extension as a source of climate change information and thus partnerships are important for extension. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) have been an important source of extension services for smallholder farmers across the world, and examples from the NGO CARE indicate that a participatory and facilitative approach works well for climate change communication. Collectively, these examples emphasize that the role of agricultural extension in climate change communication is essential in the context of both developed and developing countries and with both smallholder farmers and large-scale farmers. These case studies illustrate the effectiveness of a co-production approach, the importance of partners and donors, and the changing landscape of agricultural extension delivery.
Julia B. Corbett and Brett Clark
The communication strategy of simply sharing more scientific information has not effectively engaged and connected people to climate change in ways that facilitate understanding and encourage action. In part, this is because climate change is a so-called wicked problem, given that it is socially complex, has many interdependencies, and lacks simple solutions. For many people, climate change is generally seen as something abstract and distant—something that they know about, but do not “feel.” The arts and humanities can play an important role in disrupting the social and cultural worldviews that filter climate information and separate the public from the reality of climate change. Whether it is the visual arts, dance, theater, literature, comedy, or film, the arts and humanities present engaging stories, corporally sensed and felt experiences, awareness of interdependency with the world, emotional meanings, and connection with place. Climate stories, especially those based on lived experiences, offer distinct ways to engage a variety of senses. They allow the “invisibility” of climate change to be seen, felt, and imagined in the past, present, and future. They connect global issues to conditions close to home and create space to grieve and experience loss. They encourage critical reflection of existing social structures and cultural and moral norms, thus facilitating engagement beyond the individual level. The arts and humanities hold great potential to help spur necessary social and cultural change, but research is needed on their reach and efficacy.
Donald W. Hine, Wendy J. Phillips, Aaron B. Driver, and Mark Morrison
Scientists and policy makers face significant challenges when attempting to engage the public about climate change. An important first step is to understand the number and nature of the audiences one plans to target—a process known as audience segmentation. Segmentation involves identifying, within an audience or target population, homogenous subgroups that share similar demographic and/or psychographic profiles. After segmenting an audience, climate change communicators can target their messages based on the unique characteristics of each subgroup. For example, to stimulate engagement and behavior change, messages aimed at audiences that are skeptical about climate change may require different content and framing than messages aimed at audiences already deeply concerned about climate change.
The notion of matching message content to audience characteristics has a long history, dating back to the Ancient Greeks. More recently, audience segmentation has played a central role in targeted advertising and also social marketing, which uses marketing principles to help “sell” ideas and behaviors that benefit society. Applications to climate change communication are becoming more common, with major segmentation and communication initiatives being implemented across the globe.
Messages crafted to meet the needs of specific audience segments are more likely to be read, understood, and recalled than generic ones, and are also more likely to change behavior. However, despite these successes, the approach has not been uniformly embraced. Controversies have emerged related to the cost effectiveness of segmentation strategies, choice of segmentation variables, potential effects related to social stigmatization, whether segmentation encourages shallow (as opposed to deep) change, the extent to which segments are “found” as opposed to socially constructed by researchers, and whether interindividual differences are best conceptualized in terms of categories or dimensions.
Julie Doyle, Nathan Farrell, and Michael K. Goodman
Since the mid-2000s, entertainment celebrities have played increasingly prominent roles in the cultural politics of climate change, ranging from high-profile speeches at UN climate conferences, and social media interactions with their fans, to producing and appearing in documentaries about climate change that help give meaning to and communicate this issue to a wider audience. The role afforded to celebrities as climate change communicators is an outcome of a political environment increasingly influenced by public relations and attuned toward the media’s representation of political ideas, policies, and sentiments. Celebrities act as representatives of mass publics, operating within centers of elite political power. At the same time, celebrities represent the environmental concerns of their audiences; that is, they embody the sentiments of their audiences on the political stage. It is in this context that celebrities have gained their authority as political, social, and environmental “experts,” and the political performances of celebrities provide important ways to engage electorates and audiences with climate change action.
More recently, celebrities offer novel engagements with climate change that move beyond scientific data and facilitate more emotional and visceral connections with climate change in the public’s everyday lives. Contemporary celebrities, thus, work to shape how audiences and publics ought to feel about climate change in efforts to get them to act or change their behaviors. These “after data” moments are seen very clearly in Leonardo DiCaprio’s documentary Before the Flood. Yet, with celebrities acting as our emotional witnesses, they not only might bring climate change to greater public attention, but they expand their brand through neoliberalism’s penchant for the commoditization of everything including, as here, care and concern for the environment. As celebrities build up their own personal capital as eco-warriors, they create very real value for the “celebrity industrial complex” that lies behind their climate media interventions. Climate change activism is, through climate celebrities, rendered as spectacle, with celebrities acting as environmental and climate pedagogues framing for audiences the emotionalized problems and solutions to global environmental change. Consequently, celebrities politicize emotions in ways that that remain circumscribed by neoliberal solutions and actions that responsibilize audiences and the public.
Indigenous experiences with climate change have become increasingly visible through media stories of rising sea levels, heavy storms, and coastal erosion due to climate change in places as different as Tuvula in the South Pacific and Shishmaref in the Alaskan Arctic. Despite these bursts of attention, indigenous concerns and experiences have not been well or diversely represented in media coverage, nor have they been consistently studied in media scholarship—nor until recently, have indigenous people or knowledge been mentioned in major climate agreements and scientific assessments. There is, however, a growing body of interdisciplinary scholarship that draws on indigenous knowledge, experiences, and activism related to climate change.
Indigenous peoples comprise 5% of the world’s population and live in over 90 countries around the world. Because indigenous communities are often located outside major urban centers, indigenous peoples are likely to suffer disproportionately from the impacts of climate change. Many indigenous people live in close connection with the ecosystems in their region, and collectively held Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) is passed down through multiple generations, providing in-depth, systematic, meaningful, and historically informed views of climate change and potential pathways for resilience and adaptation.
Indigenous people have often been portrayed in media coverage as victims with little attention paid to TEK, communal resilience, human rights and climate justice frameworks, or the historical contexts that may amplify climate change impacts. While indigenous people have diverse circumstances and histories, many are likely to have suffered enormous upheaval in recent centuries due to colonialism, resource development, economic shifts, loss of human rights, and lack of self-determination. Climate change often intensifies existing vulnerabilities and risks. These deeply intertwined social and environmental crises create distinct challenges for considering how and what climate change means for diverse indigenous peoples, how to address it at all levels of governance, and how media can and should be accountable to and represent indigenous publics.
M. Teresa Mercado-Sáez and César Galarza
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.
Research on climate change communication is a neglected field in Austria. Only slowly, scientists as well as policy makers are entering the domain of communicating climate change, especially in subprojects of larger funding initiatives by the Austrian Environment Ministry and the Ministry for Transport, Innovation and Technology. In the field of communication research, only sporadic studies can be found: Some of them are investigating science-policy-interfaces and communication among stakeholders; others are focusing on awareness of climate change, especially in climate sensitive areas like (winter) tourism, agriculture, and forestry, which are significant economic fields in Austria and in which major efforts have to be taken to enhance adaptive capacities. Only a few studies are dealing with media representations of climate. Therefore, this article outlines a future research program, based on the assessment of existing scholarship. More scientific efforts should be given to the following fields of research: public communication of stakeholders, studies on media representation of climate change and framing and its effects as well as comparative studies with countries sharing comparable climate scenarios, and the strong need for adapting to climate change (e.g., from Alpine regions) as well as similar political structures.
Yves Pepermans and Pieter Maeseele
Climate change communication in Belgium takes place in a socio-economic context characterized by an economic surplus and an ecological deficit. This implies that in the short term the benefits of the structures and behaviors that sustain carbon capitalism and cause climate change are larger and more tangible than the consequences of global warming, which are exported to more vulnerable places with less adaptive capacity. Nevertheless, with regard to physical consequences, climate change communication in Belgium also takes place in a context in which heavy thunderstorms and rainfalls, as well as floods, have increased significantly. In general however, Belgians have the means to distance themselves from climate change’s existing impacts. In other words, climate change communication (and public engagement) takes place in a context in which climate change serves primarily as a cultural idea to be acted upon rather than particular geophysical changes, such as weather disruptions.
Belgium is characterized primarily by a consensual, technocratic policy environment, in which debate is limited to a relatively limited spectrum of views and in which citizens are targeted primarily according to the (information) deficit model. However, increasingly initiatives are being taken from a social marketing or public participation approach. In the case of civil society, there is a rich tradition of social movements communicating and campaigning about climate change. These campaigns have primarily focused on individual behavior change and more recently also on collective forms of behavior change such as transition initiatives or collaborative/confrontational strategies of political action. Media research has revealed how the United Nations climate process sets both the agenda and the terms of the debate in Belgian newspapers. Only in the case of an alternative news site were different discourses found that approached climate change communication in terms of a genuine debate about the direction climate policy is taking. Finally, while Belgian citizens clearly acknowledge the urgency of the matter and the need for action, many feel powerless, because of a social, spatial, and temporal distance towards the issue or because it is perceived as a threat to their identity or routines.
Candis Callison and D. B. Tindall
The immense geographical and cultural breadth of Canada includes a significant Arctic region and many distinct indigenous and rurally located peoples who are profoundly affected by climate change. However, most of Canada’s population is located in the urban south, in major cities. While Canadian media coverage of climate change has been more than the global average, it has generally tended to focus on policymaking at the national level, with a secondary focus on energy and economics. Unlike its close neighbor, the United States, Canada has had consistently positive public attitudes and media coverage toward climate change, but this hasn’t necessarily translated to policy or action. Canada’s steadily increasing greenhouse gas emissions are among the highest per capita in the world.
Canada is the home base for highly visible environmental organizations like Greenpeace and the David Suzuki Foundation, which have successfully framed and mobilized on many issues, including climate change. Canada’s resource-based economy includes the controversial oil sands in the western province of Alberta. Scholars note that media coverage of both the oil sands and the proposed and existing pipelines through British Columbia to tidewater are complex because of the way that oil interests have been represented by think tanks and aligned politicians, and, in some regions, because of lingering skepticism and doubts about the ability of political institutions to address climate change. Regional differences on all these points matter immensely, as does framing by environmental groups, indigenous groups, media, and industry proponents.
A further complication for Canadian media coverage relates to both the Arctic and indigenous peoples. The Arctic has not been central to Canadian coverage of climate change, nor have the climate justice issues associated with the disproportionate impacts that this region will experience. Most of the Canadian north is inhabited by indigenous peoples, who have been the primary representatives of climate justice and human rights as frames for media coverage. However, Canadian media has usually either not represented or misrepresented indigenous peoples. Emerging self-representation through Internet-based media provides some hopeful alternatives. In general, taking into account the vast structural changes that are sweeping Canadian media is a key area that new scholarship should attend to, particularly given that most scholarship to date on climate change and media in Canada has focused on national newspapers.
Ji Li and Luo Dan
As one of the most serious challenges facing humankind during the 21st century, climate change not only relates to many fields such as science, culture, economics, and politics, but also affects the survival and future development of human beings. In China, climate change communication research specifically first began to be conducted quite late, as the significance of climate change issues came to the fore in the international arena. The year 2007 is known as China’s “first year of climate change communication research.” Climate change coverage up to 2007 can be divided into two periods: In the early period, the number of reports was small, the reporting agenda was simple, and public’s attention was limited, whereas in the late period coverage changed visibly: the amount of coverage experienced a sharp increase, the topics covered were diverse, and reporting gradually reached an advanced level of sophistication. Research on climate change is not only limited to the analysis of science reporters from the professional field, but also includes studies conducted by the government, academia, NGOs, enterprises, and the like, and it has already reached certain research conclusions. Media coverage of climate issues and research on climat communication complement each other—the former promoting the latter and the latter enriching the former—and they jointly advance the dissemination of climate issues in China. This article hopes to sort out the research on media reports on climate change and climate change communication research to gain an overall and comprehensive understanding of climate change communication in China
Luisa Fernanda Lema Vélez, Daniel Hermelin, María Margarita Fontecha, and Dunia H. Urrego
Colombia is in a privileged position to take advantage of international climate agreements to finance sustainable development initiatives. The country is a signatory of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the Kyoto Protocol, and the Paris Agreements. As a non-Annex I party to the UNFCCC, Colombia produces low emissions in relation to global numbers (0.46% of total global emissions for 2010) and exhibits biogeographical conditions that are ideal for mitigation of climate change through greenhouse gas sequestration and emission reductions. Simultaneously, recent extreme climatic events have harshly compromised the country’s economy, making Colombia’s vulnerability to climate change evident.
While these conditions should justify a strong approach to climate change communication that motivates decision making and leads to mitigation and adaptation, the majority of sectors still fall short of effectively communicating their climate change messages. Official information about climate change is often too technical and rarely includes a call for action. However, a few exceptions exist, including environmental education materials for children and a noteworthy recent strategy to deliver the Third Communication to the UNFCCC in a form that is more palatable to the general public. Despite strong research on climate change, particularly related to agricultural, environmental, and earth sciences, academic products are rarely communicated in a way that is easily understood by decision makers and has a clear impact on public policy. Messages from the mass media frequently confuse rather than inform the public. For instance, television news refers to weather-related disasters, climate variability, and climate change indiscriminately. This shapes an erroneous idea of climate change among the public and weakens the effectiveness of communications on the issue.
The authors contrast the practices of these sectors with those of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) working in Colombia to show how they address the specific climate communication needs facing the country. These NGOs directly face the challenge of working with diverse population groups in this multicultural, multiethnic, and megadiverse country. NGOs customize languages, channels, and messages for different audiences and contexts, with the ultimate goal of building capacity in local communities, influencing policymakers, and sensitizing the private sector. Strategies that result from the work of interdisciplinary groups, involve feedback from the audiences, and incorporate adaptive management have proven to be particularly effective.
Mikkel Fugl Eskjær
Climate-change communication in Denmark was initially related to a broader environmental agenda and to discussions surrounding U.N. charters on sustainability, reflecting a traditional strong Scandinavian commitment to U.N. institutions. Although climate-change communication has since developed into an independent field among academics and environmentalists, some of the earlier links to questions of sustainability and development have been preserved.
Consequently, climate-change communication has been studied in a variety of public arenas in addition to the media system. These venues include parliamentary debates, regional discussions of renewable energy systems, cultural and artistic representations, as well as commercial and strategic discourses on green technologies—the latter representing an important Danish export market. Thus, climate-change communication is studied in several academic disciplines involving both quantitative and qualitative research strategies.
Media representations of climate change comprise the largest area of research on climate-change communication and have been investigated by media, communication, and journalism studies. Climate-change reporting is marked by substantial public consensus concerning the scientific evidence of climate change and the moral obligations of the industrialized world. It reflects a Scandinavian culture based on political corporatism in both the political system and the media system, which under normal circumstances results in a moderate rather than polarized public debate. Outright climate-change denial has consequently been marginal, although the controversies generated by Bjørn Lomborg, author of The Skeptical Environmentalist, on how to prioritize climate change in relation to other global problems, can be regarded as the Danish equivalent to climate skepticism.
Another characteristic of Danish climate change communication is the imprint left by the failure of the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference (COP15), which was experienced as particularly traumatic in the host country. Like most countries, Denmark experienced a sharp decline in climate change coverage in the aftermath of COP15. However, whereas other countries have slowly picked up the intensity of media reporting following COP15, a similar increase has not materialized in Denmark, illustrating how a failed climate (and media) event can have lasting effects on a nation’s climate change communication.
Mike S. Schäfer
Climate change communication has a long history in Germany, where the so-called “climate catastrophe” has received widespread public attention from the 1980s onwards. The article reviews climate change communication and the respective research in the country over the last decades. First, it provides a socio-political history of climate change communication in Germany. It shows how scientists were successful in setting the issue on the public and policy agendas early on, how politicians and the media emphasized the climate change threat, how corporations abstained from interventions into the debate and how skeptical voices, as a result, remained marginalized. Second, the article reviews scholarship on climate change communication in Germany. It shows how research on the issue has expanded since the mid-2000s, highlights major strands and results, as well as open questions and ongoing debates.
Taiwan and Hong Kong are similar in their determination to combat climate change. Not only have they set up objectives about carbon emission reduction, but they also have actively enacted laws and policies to achieve these goals. However, the public is not considered to play an important role in policymaking in either Taiwan or Hong Kong. On the other hand, these two regions differ in several aspects about how and why they are addressing this issue. First, Taiwan’s efforts to reduce carbon emission are voluntary, with the goal of gaining international recognition, whereas Hong Kong is obliged to engage in carbon reduction due to its subordinate status to the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Second, while Taiwan is trying to reduce its reliance on nuclear power as an energy source, Hong Kong sees it as a useful way to cut down carbon emissions. Third, Taiwan has established new, specialized governmental institutions to integrate resources, whereas efforts taken by Hong Kong mainly revolve around existing government agencies. In terms of public opinion about climate change, the Taiwanese are much more concerned about the issue and know more about it than their counterparts in Hong Kong. Finally, the media in Taiwan pay more attention to climate change than the media in Hong Kong. This article suggests potential directions for future research in this area.
Climate change communication is a relatively new area of research in India—a country that ranks high in vulnerability due to poverty, yet a major emitter of greenhouse gases (GHGs). This article reviews climate change communication research in the country from the 1990s to the present. First, it provides a political economy framework to explore the issue of climate change communication amid environment and development debates in India. It shows that elite discourses of climate change have been shifting from externalizing the problem and solutions to a more recent co-benefits approach to address the twin challenges of climate change and economic development. Second, the article reviews research about media coverage and finds that although Indian media portrays climate change as real and human-caused and reports its severe impacts in India, it largely externalizes the problem, with slight changes in recent coverage highlighting domestic responsibility and equity. Third, reviewing studies on public awareness and understanding, it shows that while the Indian public is largely unaware of the term climate change, public opinion surveys and qualitative research indicate that Indians report experiencing changing weather conditions in their local area—an important lesson to communicating climate change in India. Finally, it explores future opportunities for climate change communication research in India.
Emmet Fox and Henrike Rau
Climate change communication research in Ireland has only recently emerged as a distinct field of inquiry. Research to date reveals the marginalization of climate change in the mainstream media, which is further amplified by its segregation from closely related topics of major public concern in Ireland such as extreme weather events, flooding, energy resources, or economic recovery. Content analyses of media coverage from the late 1990s until today show the coexistence of different narratives, with ecological modernization emerging as an increasingly dominant discourse that is supported by powerful actors in Irish society.
In contrast, more radical and alternative perspectives on the subject of climate change, including those associated with class-centered and growth-sceptic views of society and economic development, remain largely absent. Efforts to date by key public figures, environmental non-governmental organizations (ENGOs), and environmentalists to promote a more nuanced and citizen-centered climate change debate have concentrated on both traditional and nontraditional news outlets in an attempt to reach diverse audiences. Conventional media such as the national broadcaster RTÉ or the broadsheet newspaper The Irish Times nevertheless continue to fundamentally shape public debate in Ireland, making their future involvement in nuanced and balanced climate change debates central to any effort to shift thinking, policy, and action.
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.
Climate change communication in Israel is embedded primarily in environmental communication and less in science communication. This form of communication is considered low risk compared to the war and terrorism that are part of everyday life in Israel.
Only in the 1970s did environmental communication emerge in various media channels and on the public agenda, while climate change communication has slowly begun to gain salience only in the last decade.
Mass media coverage of climate change in Israel is generally quite low compared to other developed countries in the West, with the new media channels partially used by interested nongovernmental organizations and individual activists. It seems the media still give voice to skeptics and are reluctant to give more salience because of the cross-business ownership of the media, mainly newspapers, television, and websites.
From time to time, media events on climate change, organized by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and world summits that have political interests, serve to increase coverage and raise public interest. As in other countries, coverage is usually local rather than global, even though climate change is clearly a global problem.
How effective is climate change communication in Israel? Research has only partially answered this question. It seems that the legacy of low media coverage contributes to the weak salience of climate change on the government and public agenda. Moreover, the atmosphere of uncertain risks and outcomes for Israel has not created a climate of urgency for policy makers.
Lorenzo Beltrame, Massimiano Bucchi, and Enzo Loner
Climate change communication in Italy is preeminently “commonsensical” and pragmatic. Italian mass media represent climate change as an undisputable fact scaled to the everyday domestic and local experience of common people. While the causes of climate change are rarely discussed, its consequences are instead presented in very practical terms (from environmental catastrophes to weather anomalies) and the issue is framed as something linking, embedding, and drawing together multiple social dimensions (the economy, politics, science and technology, and everyday life). Mass media discourse has contradictory effects on public perceptions of the issue. Review of existing studies and use of available social survey data show that the Italian public is largely aware of the seriousness of climate change, but climate change is considered less urgent than other matters of concern related to the economic situation. In developing their environmental awareness, Italian citizens rely mainly on information provided by traditional mass media, while environmental organizations’ claims and public communication by scientists play a marginal role. Finally, perceptions of climate change in Italy are prevalently built on the direct experiences of anomalies in seasonal temperatures rather than on evidence-based scientific communication.