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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

Historic discussions of climate often suggested that it caused societies to have certain qualities. In the 19th-century, imperial representations of the world environment frequently “determined” the fate of peoples and places, a practice that has frequently been used to explain the largest patterns of political rivalry and the fates of empires and their struggles for dominance in world politics. In the 21st century, climate change has mostly reversed the causal logic in the reasoning about human–nature relationships and their geographies. The new thinking suggests that human decisions, at least those made by the rich and powerful with respect to the forms of energy that are used to power the global economy, are influencing future climate changes. Humans are now shaping the environment on a global scale, not the other way around. Despite the widespread acceptance of the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate-change action, numerous arguments about who should act and how they should do so to deal with climate change shape international negotiations. Differing viewpoints are in part a matter of geographical location and whether an economy is dependent on fossil-fuels revenue or subject to increasingly severe storms, droughts, or rising sea levels. These differences have made climate negotiations very difficult in the last couple of decades. Partly in response to these differences, the Paris Agreement devolves primary responsibility for climate policy to individual states rather than establish any other geopolitical arrangement. Apart from the outright denial that humanity is a factor in climate change, arguments about whether climate change causes conflict and how security policies should engage climate change also partly shape contemporary geopolitical agendas. Despite climate-change deniers, in the Trump administration in particular, in the aftermath of the Paris Agreement, climate change is understood increasingly as part of a planetary transformation that has been set in motion by industrial activity and the rise of a global fossil-fuel-powered economy. But this is about more than just climate change. The larger earth-system science discussion of transformation, which can be encapsulated in the use of the term “Anthropocene” for the new geological circumstances of the biosphere, is starting to shape the geopolitics of climate change just as new political actors are beginning to have an influence on climate politics.

Article

Biomass burning is widespread in sub-Saharan Africa, which harbors more than half of global biomass burning activity. These African open fires are mostly induced by humans for various purposes, ranging from agricultural land clearing and residue burning to deforestation. They affect a wide variety of land ecosystems, including forests, woodlands, shrublands, savannas, grasslands, and croplands. Satellite observations show that fires are distributed almost equally between the northern and southern hemispheres of sub-Saharan Africa, with a dipole-type annual distribution pattern, peaking during the dry (winter) season of either hemisphere. The widespread nature of African biomass burning and the tremendous amounts of particulate and gas-phase emissions the fires produce have been shown to affect a variety of processes that ultimately impact the earth’s atmospheric composition and chemistry, air quality, water cycle, and climate in a significant manner. However, there is still a high level of uncertainty in the quantitative characterization of biomass burning, and its emissions and impacts in Africa and globally. These uncertainties can be potentially alleviated through improvements in the spatial and temporal resolutions of satellite observations, numerical modeling and data assimilation, complemented by occasional field campaigns. In addition, there is great need for the general public, policy makers, and funding organizations within Africa to recognize the seriousness of uncontrolled biomass burning and its potential consequences, in order to bring the necessary human and financial resources to bear on essential policies and scientific research activities that can effectively address the threats posed by the combined adverse influences of the changing climate, biomass burning, and other environmental challenges in sub-Saharan Africa.

Article

Communicating about climate change with religious groups should recognize the diversity incorporated in the term “religion.” Diversity in practice, institutional forms, belief systems, values, and core narratives mean that climate communication cannot be formulaic application of communication techniques and social psychology tweaked for spirituality. Because all people see phenomena like climate change through the prisms of their existing ideas, values, influence of significant others, sociostructural position, and personal experience, and expect these to be respected, communication with religious groups should respect the particular religious tradition and draw on narratives and language that are meaningful to the particular faith. Emphasis is placed on the role of religion as a social space wherein people come together, form ideas, and act collectively. Social networks and established practice are likely to be as significant as the influence of a religious leader although such elite influence can also be important. Roman Catholic Pope Francis’ recent teaching document on the environment, Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home, serves as one example of communication about climate change. An understanding of the cultural assumptions, narratives, and framings relevant to a particular group is essential regardless of whether the people are secular or religious.