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Article

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.

Article

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.

Article

Climate change brings profound challenges for social movements. The persistent failure to address climate challenges has driven a rapid “climatization” of politics. Spurred by the climate justice movement, social movements across a broad spectrum have become directly engaged with climate issues. Social movements are defined as groupings of people who act intentionally through an organization or via a network or even as a loose affiliation. They must have a collective identification and capacity for sustained action and participation. Their purpose often is to transform the conditions for social change as key agents in creating a “movement society” of mass political involvement. In doing so, social movements engage in a “metapolitics” of creating power and recreating society. Climate movements are increasingly being shown to have this effect. Recent research demonstrates that with climate change, there is a growing realignment in the social movement field to simultaneously address both climate concerns and social agendas. New forms of social agency are emerging under climate change, posing a new kind of climatized “movement society.” Arguably, as demonstrated by the limited efforts at developing international climate policy, mass mobilization on climate issues is a necessary element of any strategy to secure climate stability. Three broad fields of action are evident – politicising the impacts of climate change, contesting the causes, and advancing solutions. In each there is a widening field of agendas as climate concerns overwhelm existing social relations. Distinctive strategies emerge. First, there is growing collective identification among people affected by the impacts of climate change, now or anticipated, with a marked shift from climate advocacy to climate organizing, of acting “with,” not “for” those affected. Second, actions to challenge the legitimacy of the fossil fuel sector have escalated, materializing the causes of climate change in the fossil fuel cycle. With this, there is a move from abstract demands for emissions reduction to much more concrete demands for fossil fuel phase-out. Finally, in terms of solutions, there is a move from a focus on emission-reduction programs to wider policy agendas designed to transform social relations. Emissions reduction is no longer seen as a burden to be shared, but as part of wider social transformation, of benefit to all.

Article

Climate change is often said to herald the anthropocene, where humans become active participants in the remaking of global geology. The corollary of the wide acceptance of a geological anthropocene is the emergence of a new form of self-aware climate agency. With awareness comes blame, invoking responsibility for action. What kind of social action arises from climate agency has become the critical question of our era. In the context of climate deterioration, the prevalence of inaction is itself an exercise of agency, creating in its path new fields of social struggle. The opening sphere of climate agency has the effect of subsuming other fields, reconfiguring established categories of human justice and ethical well-being. In this respect we can think of climate agency as having a distinctive, even revolutionary logic, which remains emergent, enveloping multiple aspects of social action. From this perspective the question of climate change and social movement participation is centrally important. To what extent is something that we can characterize as “climate agency” emerging through social movement participation? What potential has this phenomenon to develop beyond ideological confinement and delimitation to make wider and transformative claims on society? A genuine social movement, we are taught from history, is indeed a transformative force capable of remaking social and political relations. It remains unclear, but what are the emergent dynamics of climate movement participation that depart from established systemic parameters, to offer such a challenge? How are such developments reconfiguring “climate change communication,” forcing an insurgent element into the polity? Though scholarship addressing these questions on social movement participation and climate change exists, the field undoubtedly remains relatively underdeveloped. This reflects the extent to which inquiry into climate change has been dominated by scientific and economic discourses. It also reflects the difficulty that social science, and specifically political sociology, the “home” of social movement studies, has had in apprehending the scope of the challenge. Climate change can disrupt deeply sedimented assumptions about the relationship between social movements and capitalist modernity, and force a reconsideration of the role of social movements across developmentalist hierarchies. Such rethinking can be theoretically challenging, and force new approaches into view. These possibilities reflect the broader challenges to political culture posed by climate change.

Article

Konrad Ott and Frederike Neuber

The means to combat dangerous anthropogenic climate change constitutes a portfolio. Beside abatement of greenhouse gas emissions, this portfolio entails adaptation to changing climate conditions, and so-called climate engineering measures. The overall portfolio has to be judged on technical, economic, and moral grounds. This requires an in-depth understanding of the moral aspects of climate engineering options. Climate engineering (CE) is a large-scale intentional intervention either in carbon cycles (carbon dioxide removal; CDR) or in solar radiation (solar radiation management; SRM). The ethical discourse on climate engineering has gained momentum since the 2010s. The set of arguments pro and contra specific CE technologies constitute a vast landscape of discourse. Single arguments must be analyzed with scrutiny according to their ethical background, their normative premises, their inferential logic, and their practical and political consequences. CE ethics, then, has a threefold task: (a) it must suppose a solid understanding of different CE technologies and their risks; (b) it has to analyze the moral arguments that speak in favor or against specific CE technologies; and (c) it has to assess the impacts of accepting or rejecting specific arguments for the overall climate portfolio’s design. The global climate portfolio differs from ordinary investment portfolios since stakes are huge, moral values in dispute, risks and uncertainties pervasive, and collective decision-making urgent. Any argument has implications of how to design the overall portfolio best. From an ethical perspective, however, one must reflect upon the premises and inferential structures of the arguments as such. Analysis of arguments and mapping them logically can be seen as core business of CE ethics. Highly general arguments about CE usually fall short, since the diverse features of individual technologies may not be addressed by overarching arguments that necessarily homogenize different technologies. It can be stated with confidence that the moral profiles of CDR and SRM are highly different. Every single deployment scheme ought to be judged specifically, for it is a huge difference to propose SRM as a substitute for abatement, or to embed it within a comprehensive climate portfolio including abatement and adaptation, where SRM will be used sporadically and only for a matter of decades.

Article

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.