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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

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

This article considers the relationship between news media and the sociopolitical dimensions of climate change. Media can be seen as sites where various actors contend with one another for visibility, for power, and for the opportunity to communicate, as well as where they promote their policy preferences. In the context of climate change, actors include politicians, social movement representatives, scientists, business leaders, and celebrities—to name a few. The general public obtain much of their information about climate change and other environmental issues from the media, either directly or indirectly through sources like social media. Media have their own internal logic, and getting one’s message into the media is not straightforward. A variety of factors influence what gets into the media, including media practices, and research shows that media matter in influencing public opinion. A variety of media practices affect reporting on climate change─one example is the journalistic norm of balance, which directs that actors on both sides of a controversy be given relatively equal attention by media outlets. In the context of global warming and climate change, in the United States, this norm has led to the distortion of the public’s understanding of these processes. Researchers have found that, in the scientific literature, there is a very strong consensus among scientists that human-caused (anthropogenic) climate change is happening. Yet media in the United States often portray the issue as a heated debate between two equal sides. Subscription to, and readership of, print newspapers have declined among the general public; nevertheless, particular newspapers continue to be important. Despite the decline of traditional media, politicians, academics, NGO leaders, business leaders, policymakers, and other opinion leaders continue to consume the media. Furthermore, articles from particular outlets have significant readership via new media access points, such as Facebook and Twitter. An important concept in the communication literature is the notion of framing. “Frames” are the interpretive schemas individuals use to perceive, identify, and label events in the world. Social movements have been important actors in discourse about climate change policy and in mobilizing the public to pressure governments to act. Social movements play a particularly important role in framing issues and in influencing public opinion. In the United States, the climate change denial countermovement, which has strong links to conservative think tanks, has been particularly influential. This countermovement is much more influential in the United States than in other countries. The power of the movement has been a barrier to the federal government taking significant policy action on climate change in the United States and has had consequences for international agreements and processes.