As one of the most serious challenges facing humankind during the 21st century, climate change not only relates to many fields such as science, culture, economics, and politics, but also affects the survival and future development of human beings. In China, climate change communication research specifically first began to be conducted quite late, as the significance of climate change issues came to the fore in the international arena. The year 2007 is known as China’s “first year of climate change communication research.” Climate change coverage up to 2007 can be divided into two periods: In the early period, the number of reports was small, the reporting agenda was simple, and public’s attention was limited, whereas in the late period coverage changed visibly: the amount of coverage experienced a sharp increase, the topics covered were diverse, and reporting gradually reached an advanced level of sophistication. Research on climate change is not only limited to the analysis of science reporters from the professional field, but also includes studies conducted by the government, academia, NGOs, enterprises, and the like, and it has already reached certain research conclusions. Media coverage of climate issues and research on climat communication complement each other—the former promoting the latter and the latter enriching the former—and they jointly advance the dissemination of climate issues in China. This article hopes to sort out the research on media reports on climate change and climate change communication research to gain an overall and comprehensive understanding of climate change communication in China
Ji Li and Luo Dan
John Wihbey and Bud Ward
The relationship between scientific experts and news media producers around issues of climate change has been a complicated and often contentious one, as the slow-moving and complex story has frequently challenged, and clashed with, journalistic norms of newsworthiness, speed, and narrative compression. Even as climate scientists have become more concerned by their evidence-based findings involving projected risks, doubts and confusion over communications addressing those risks have increased. Scientists increasingly have been called upon to speak more clearly and forcefully to the public through news media about evidence and risks—and to do so in the face of rapidly changing news media norms that only complicate those communications. Professional science and environment journalists—whose ranks have been thinned steadily by media industry financial pressures—have meanwhile come under more scrutiny in terms of their understanding; accuracy; and, at times, perceived bias. A number of important organizations have recognized the need to educate and empower a broad range of scientists and journalists to be more effective at communicating about the complexities of climate science and about the societal and economic impacts of a warming climate. For example, organizations such as Climate Communication have been launched to support scientists in their dealings with media, while the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change itself has continued to focus on the communication of climate science. The Earth Journalism Network, Society of Environmental Journalists, Poynter Institute, and the International Center for Journalists have worked to build media capacity globally to cover climate change stories. Efforts at Stanford University, the University of Oxford, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard University, and the University of Rhode Island sponsor programming and fellowships that in part help bolster journalism in this area. Through face-to-face workshops and online efforts, The Yale Project on Climate Change Communication has sought to link the media and science communities. Meanwhile, powerful, widely read sites and blogs such as “Dot Earth,” hosted by the New York Times, Climate Central, Real Climate, The Conversation, and Climate Progress have fostered professional dialogue, greater awareness of science, and called attention to reporting and communications issues. Journalists and scientists have had ongoing conversations as part of the regular publication and reporting processes, and professional conferences and events bring the two communities together. Issues that continue to animate these discussions include conveying the degree to which climate science can be said to be “settled” and how to address uncertainty. Through some of these capacity-building efforts, news media have become increasingly aware of audience dynamics including how citizens respond to pessimistic reports, or “doom and gloom,” versus solutions-oriented reports. Professional dialogue has also revolved around the ethical dimensions of conveying a story at the level of global importance. Still, with issues of climate change communication on display for more than two decades now, certain tensions and dynamics persist. Notably, journalists seek clarity from scientists, while climate change experts and advocates for and against taking climate action often continue to demand that journalists resist the temptation to oversimplify or hype the latest empirical findings, while at the same time urging that journalists do not underestimate potential climate risks.