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Article

Ana Horta and Anabela Carvalho

In Portugal, global politics tend to dominate climate change communication. Policy-oriented news stories prevail, being very much influenced by international events, dynamics, and actors, especially European ones, whereas national politicians and officials tend to be given less space. Climate change is thus mainly (re)presented as a global issue, distant from local realities, in spite of the vulnerabilities that the country faces. National policy makers tend to adopt a technocratic discourse that comes across as “rational” and fairly optimistic, with little contestation by environmental groups or others. A “green economy” discourse has prevailed in the media, with investment on renewable energy being depicted as the way to both stimulating the economy and addressing climate change. Scientific knowledge tends to be represented as consensual and national scientists tend to avoid dramatization. Although public opinion surveys have shown that the population considers climate change a serious problem and skepticism regarding its anthropogenic causes is low, surveys have also revealed high levels of ignorance and self-evaluated lack of information. In spite of a traditionally weak environmental movement and lack of public engagement, the population has shown a consistent sense of collective responsibility to tackle climate change. The economic and financial crisis up until the mid-2010s considerably affected the already fragile media system and turned political and public attention to economy-related topics. News coverage of climate change, in all its complexity, has been constrained by a lack of specialized reporters and increased dependency on the pro-activity of news sources.

Article

The term public engagement (PE) refers to processes that provide a distinct role for citizens or stakeholder groups in policymaking. Such engagement is distinctive because it aims to create opportunities for mutual learning among policymakers, scientists, stakeholders, and members of the public. In so doing, PE involves a particular type of voice in public debate and policymaking that is different from more established discourses, such as those expressed through official policymaking channels, scientific institutions, civil society activists, or the public media. By the early 1970s, PE had emerged in the context of an overall democratization movement in Western societies through such innovations as the “citizen jury” in the United States and “planning cells” in Germany. Today, it is often more pragmatically motivated, such as in the European Commission, where PE is seen as a tool for responsible research and innovation that helps to anticipate and assess potential implications and societal expectations of research and innovation, as well as to design more inclusive and sustainable research policies. The first global PE processes in history were created to incorporate citizen voices into United Nations (UN) conventions on biodiversity and climate change. Building on theories of deliberative democracy and tested PE practices, a new World Wide Views process was developed to provide informed and considered input from ordinary citizens to the 2009 UN climate summit. This and subsequent World Wide Views (WWViews) deliberations have demonstrated that PE may potentially open up policy discourses that are constricted and obfuscated by organized interests. A telling example is provided by the World Wide Views on Climate and Energy deliberation held on June 5, 2015, where nearly 10,000 ordinary citizens gathered in 76 countries to consider and express their views on the issues to be addressed at the UN climate summit in Paris later that year. In a noteworthy departure from prevailing media and policy discourses, two-thirds of the participating citizens saw measures to fight climate change as “mostly an opportunity to improve our quality of life,” while only a quarter saw them as “mostly a threat to our quality of life,” a result that was consistent across high-, middle-, and low-income countries. Recent research on PE has indicated that when effectively implemented, such processes can increase the legitimacy, quality, and capacity of decision-making. Earlier aspirations for broader impacts, such as the democratization of policymaking at all levels, are now less prominent but arguably indispensable for achieving both immediate and longer-range goals. The relatively new concept of a deliberative system captures this complexity by moving beyond the narrow focus on single PE events encountered in much research to date, recognizing that single events rarely affect the course of policymaking. The evolving prospects for PE in biodiversity and climate change policy, therefore, can be seen as requiring ongoing improvements in the capacities of the deliberative system.

Article

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.

Article

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.

Article

Nathaniel Geiger, Brianna Middlewood, and Janet Swim

Given the severity of the threat posed by climate change, why is large-scale societal action to decarbonize our energy systems not more widespread? The present article examines four categories of psychological barriers to accurate risk perceptions and engagement with this topic by the public. First, psychological barriers such as (a) not personally experiencing the threat, (b) not hearing people talk about climate change, (c) being limited by cultural narratives, and (d) not understanding how climate change works can lead to misperception of the threat posed by climate change. Second, individuals may lack knowledge or perceived ability about how to address the threat. Third, social barriers such as social norms not to act and socio-structural barriers can discourage climate change engagement. Finally, worldviews such as neoliberal ideology and conspiratorial worldviews can conflict with climate change engagement.

Article

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.

Article

Maxwell Boykoff and Gesa Luedecke

During the past three decades, elite news media have become influential translators of climate change linking science, policy, and the citizenry. Historical trends in public discourse—shaped in significant part by elite media—demonstrate news media’s critical role in shaping public perception and the level of concern towards climate change. Media representations of climate change and global warming are embedded in social, cultural, political, and economic dimensions that influence individual-level processes such as everyday journalistic practices. Media have a strong influence on policy decision-making, attitudes, perspectives, intentions, and behavioral change, but those connections can be challenging to pinpoint; consequently, examinations of elite news coverage of climate change, particularly in recent decades, have sought to gain a stronger understanding of these complex and dynamic webs of interactions. In so doing, research has more effectively traced how media have taken on varied roles in the climate change debate, from watch dogs to lap dogs to guard dogs in the public sphere. Within these areas of research, psychological aspects of media influence have been relatively underemphasized. However, interdisciplinary and problem-focused research investigations of elite media coverage stand to advance considerations of public awareness, discourse, and engagement. Elite news media critically contribute to public discourse and policy priorities through their “mediating” and interpretative influences. Therefore, a review of examinations of these dynamics illuminate the bridging role of elite news coverage of climate change between formal science and policy, and everyday citizens in the public sphere.

Article

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.

Article

Images are a key part of the climate change communication process. The diverse and interdisciplinary literature on how people engage with visual representations of climate change is reviewed. Images hold particular power for engaging people, as they hold three qualities that differ from other communication devices (such as words or text): they are analogical, they lack an explicit propositional syntax, and they are indexical. These qualities are explored in relation to climate change imagery. A number of visual tropes common to climate change communication (identifiable people; climate change impacts; energy, emissions and pollution; protest; scientific imagery) are examined and the evidence for each of these visual tropes in terms of how they engage particular audiences is reviewed. Two case studies, of polar bear imagery and the “hockey stick” graph image, critically examine iconic imagery associated with climate change, and how and why these types of images may (dis)engage audiences. Six best-practice guidelines for visual climate change communication are presented and three areas for further research in this nascent field are suggested.

Article

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.

Article

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.

Article

Daniel Barben and Nils Matzner

“Anticipatory governance” has gained recognition as an approach dedicated to shaping research and development early on, that is, long before technological applications become available or societal impacts visible. It combines future-oriented technology assessment, interdisciplinary knowledge integration, and public engagement. This article places debates about the anticipatory governance of climate engineering (CE) into the context of earlier efforts to render the governance of science, emerging technologies, and society more forward-looking, inclusive, and deliberative. While each field of science and technology raises specific governance challenges—which may also differ across time and space—climate engineering seems rather unique because it relates to what many consider the most significant global challenge: climate change. The article discusses how and why CE has become subject to change in the aftermath of the Paris Agreement of 2015, leading to a more open and more fragmented situation. In the beginning, CE served as an umbrella term covering a broad range of approaches which differ in terms of risks, opportunities, and uncertainties. After Paris, carbon dioxide removal has been normalized as an approach that expands mitigation options and, thus, should no longer be attributed to CE, while solar radiation management has remained marginalized as a CE approach. The 1.5 °C special report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is indicative for this shift. The governance of CE unfolds in a context where the assessment of climate change and its impacts provides the context for assessing the potentials and limitations of CE. Since one cannot clearly predict the future as it is nonlinear and multiple anticipation may mark a promising way of thinking about future realities in the contemporary. Due to its indeterminacy the future may also become subject to “politics of anticipation.” As uncertainty underlies not only ways of thinking the future but also ways of acting upon it, anticipatory governance may provide valuable guidance on how to approach challenging presents and futures in a reflexive way. In consequence, anticipatory governance is not only aware of risks, uncertainties, and forms of ignorance but is also ready to adjust and realign positions, following the changing knowledge and preferences in the worlds of science, policymaking and politics, or civil society. This article will discuss notions of anticipatory governance as developed in various institutional contexts concerned with assessing, funding, regulating, or conducting research and innovation. It will explore how notions of anticipatory governance have been transferred to the field of CE, in attempts at either shaping the course of CE-related research and innovation or at critically observing various CE-related governance endeavors by evaluating their capacities in anticipatorily governing research and technology development. By working in a double epistemic status, “anticipatory governance” exhibits useful characteristics in both practical and analytical ways. Considering the particular significance of climate change, approaches to anticipatory governance of CE need to be scaled up and reframed, from guiding research and innovation to meeting a global challenge, from creating capable ensembles in research and innovation to facilitating societal transformation toward carbon neutrality.

Article

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.

Article

Rhian Salmon, Rebecca Priestley, Michele Fontana, and Taciano L. Milfont

Climate change communication in Aotearoa New Zealand occurs through multiple channels, including public communication by experts; formal and informal science-policy dialogues; and publication of popular books, documentaries, and media reports. There is, in addition, a wide array of climate change communication activities that are less well documented, such as those that utilize the education system, social media, art, community events and festivals, and co-production processes related to adaptation and mitigation choices. Although research into the communication of climate change is in its infancy in the country, data on public attitudes toward climate change over the past decade indicate that most New Zealanders believe climate change is occurring, is anthropogenic, and is a serious concern. This is mirrored by research into media coverage on climate change, which shows that mainstream news reports are largely consistent with the scientific consensus and reports issued by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and do not give much coverage to skeptical or catastrophic viewpoints.