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.
Pieter Maeseele and Yves Pepermans
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.
Joseph E. Uscinski, Karen Douglas, and Stephan Lewandowsky
An overwhelming percentage of climate scientists agree that human activity is causing the global climate to change in ways that will have deleterious consequences both for the environment and for humankind. While scientists have alerted both the public and policy makers to the dangers of continuing or increasing the current rate of carbon emission, policy proposals intended to curb carbon emission and thereby mitigate climate change have been resisted by a notable segment of the public. Some of this resistance comes from those not wanting to incur costs or change energy sources (i.e., the carbon-based energy industry). Others oppose policies intended to address climate change for ideological reasons (i.e., they are opposed to the collectivist nature of the solutions usually proposed). But perhaps the most alarming and visible are those who oppose solutions to climate change because they believe, or at least claim to believe, that anthropogenic climate change is not really happening and that climate scientists are lying and their data is fake. Resistance, in this latter case, sometimes referred to as climate “skepticism” or “denialism,” varies from region to region in strength but worldwide has been a prominent part of a political force strong enough to preclude both domestic and global policy makers from making binding efforts to avert the further effects of anthropogenic climate change. For example, a 2013 poll in the United States showed that almost 40% believed that climate change was a hoax. Climate skeptics suggest the well-publicized consensus is either manufactured or illusory and that some nefarious force—be it the United Nations, liberals, communists, or authoritarians—want to use climate change as a cover for exerting massive new controls over the populace. This conspiracy-laden rhetoric—if followed to its logical conclusion—expresses a rejection of scientific methods, scientists, and the role that science plays in society. Skeptic rhetoric, on one hand, may suggest that climate skepticism is psychological and the product of underlying conspiratorial thinking, rather than cognitive and the product of a careful weighing of scientific evidence. On the other hand, it may be that skeptics do not harbor underlying conspiratorial thinking, but rather express their opposition to policy solutions in conspiratorial terms because that is the only available strategy when arguing against an accepted scientific consensus. This tactic of calling into question the integrity of science has been used in other scientific debates (e.g., the link between cigarette smoking and cancer). Opinion surveys, however, support the view that climate change denialism is driven at least partially by underlying conspiratorial thinking. Belief in climate change conspiracy theories also appears to drive behaviors in ways consistent with the behaviors of people who think in conspiratorial terms: Climate change conspiracy theorists are less likely to participate politically or take actions that could alleviate their carbon footprint. Furthermore, some climate skeptics reject studies showing that their skepticism is partially a product of conspiratorial thinking: They believe such studies are themselves part of the conspiracy.