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Pieter Maeseele and Yves Pepermans

The idea of climate change inspires and reinforces disagreements at all levels of society. Climate change’s integration into public life suggests that there is no evident way of framing and tackling the phenomenon. This brings forward important questions regarding the role of ideology in mediated public discourse on climate change. The existing research literature shows that five ideological filters need to be taken into account to understand the myriad ways in which ideology plays a role in the production, representation, and reception of climate change in (news and entertainment) media: (i) economic factors, (ii) journalistic norms, (iii) political context, (iv) ideological cultures, and (v) citizen decoding. Furthermore, two different interpretations of how ideology precisely serves as a filter of social reality underlie this literature: an interpretation of ideology as an independent variable, on the one hand, and as a constitutive practice, on the other. Moreover, these interpretations underlie a broader discussion in the social sciences on the relation between climate change and ideology and how scholars and activists should deal with it. By considering climate change as a post-ideological issue, a first perspective problematizes the politicization of climate change and calls for its depoliticization to foster consensus and public engagement. In response, a second perspective takes aim against the post-politicization and post-democratization of climate change (resulting from the adoption of the first perspective) for suppressing the role of ideology and, as a result, for stifling democratic debate and citizenship with regard to the climate issue. This latter perspective is in need of further exploration in future research, especially with regard to the concepts of ideological fault lines, ideological hegemony, and ideological strategies.


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.