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Article

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.

Article

Climate change communication in Japan is characterized by governmental campaigns for carbon dioxide emission reduction and mass media coverage of international events on climate change issues. A series of governmental campaigns included “Cool Biz,” “Warm Biz,” and “Team Minus 6%” for the Kyoto protocol; “Challenge 25” for the Hatoyama initiative; “Fun to Share” and “Cool Choice” for the new mid-term Greenhouse gas emissions reduction target of 26%. Those campaigns are popular among public. As for media coverage of international events on climate change issues, one of the biggest events was the COP3 in Kyoto, in 1997; another is the release of AR5 from 2006 to early 2007, and following events of the G8 summits of Heiligendamm, Germany in 2007, and of Toyako, Japan in 2008. Until now, not much attention has been paid to climate change communication research, as social scientists seldom join research projects concerning climate change science. But recent severe weather, such as stronger or early-season typhoons, heavier rainfalls, early arrival of spring (e.g., earlier bloom of cherry blossoms), and the bleaching of coral reefs bring awareness not only to the general public but also to social scientists. Lack of participation by social scientists in climate change communication research has meant a very narrow range of communication with the public. Experts try to “teach” the science of climate change, and actions such as “50 easy things for tackling global warming,” but it seems those are not what ordinary people want to know. Furthermore, there seems to be no debate on what climate change will bring us, what kinds of energy we should choose, who might be more vulnerable. Debate on ethical issues, justice issues, and sharing of responsibility will be need to be part of future climate change communication.

Article

In recent years, increased Internet access and new communication technologies have led to the development of online methods for gathering public opinion and behavioral data related to controversial issues like climate change. To help climate-change researchers better adapt to the new era of online-based research, a review of, and methodological applications for, prevailing Internet-based research methods are provided here. Online surveys have become more common in the last decade for several reasons, including their relatively low administration cost, the pervasiveness of Internet communication, and declining response rates associated with traditional survey methods. Experiments embedded within online surveys have also become a useful tool for examining the extent to which online communications influence publics’ attitudes and behaviors. Other research methods that have gained growing attention from scholars are content analyses of online communication using big data approaches. By mining the seemingly infinite amount of user-generated content extracted from different social media sites, researchers are able to analyze issue awareness, responses to instant news, and emerging sentiments. This article provides a detailed overview of these Internet-based research methods, including their potential advantages and pitfalls, their applications in the science-communication and climate-change research fields, as well as suggestions for future research.

Article

Julie Doyle, Nathan Farrell, and Michael K. Goodman

Since the mid-2000s, entertainment celebrities have played increasingly prominent roles in the cultural politics of climate change, ranging from high-profile speeches at UN climate conferences, and social media interactions with their fans, to producing and appearing in documentaries about climate change that help give meaning to and communicate this issue to a wider audience. The role afforded to celebrities as climate change communicators is an outcome of a political environment increasingly influenced by public relations and attuned toward the media’s representation of political ideas, policies, and sentiments. Celebrities act as representatives of mass publics, operating within centers of elite political power. At the same time, celebrities represent the environmental concerns of their audiences; that is, they embody the sentiments of their audiences on the political stage. It is in this context that celebrities have gained their authority as political, social, and environmental “experts,” and the political performances of celebrities provide important ways to engage electorates and audiences with climate change action. More recently, celebrities offer novel engagements with climate change that move beyond scientific data and facilitate more emotional and visceral connections with climate change in the public’s everyday lives. Contemporary celebrities, thus, work to shape how audiences and publics ought to feel about climate change in efforts to get them to act or change their behaviors. These “after data” moments are seen very clearly in Leonardo DiCaprio’s documentary Before the Flood. Yet, with celebrities acting as our emotional witnesses, they not only might bring climate change to greater public attention, but they expand their brand through neoliberalism’s penchant for the commoditization of everything including, as here, care and concern for the environment. As celebrities build up their own personal capital as eco-warriors, they create very real value for the “celebrity industrial complex” that lies behind their climate media interventions. Climate change activism is, through climate celebrities, rendered as spectacle, with celebrities acting as environmental and climate pedagogues framing for audiences the emotionalized problems and solutions to global environmental change. Consequently, celebrities politicize emotions in ways that that remain circumscribed by neoliberal solutions and actions that responsibilize audiences and the public.

Article

Luisa Fernanda Lema Vélez, Daniel Hermelin, María Margarita Fontecha, and Dunia H. Urrego

Colombia is in a privileged position to take advantage of international climate agreements to finance sustainable development initiatives. The country is a signatory of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the Kyoto Protocol, and the Paris Agreements. As a non-Annex I party to the UNFCCC, Colombia produces low emissions in relation to global numbers (0.46% of total global emissions for 2010) and exhibits biogeographical conditions that are ideal for mitigation of climate change through greenhouse gas sequestration and emission reductions. Simultaneously, recent extreme climatic events have harshly compromised the country’s economy, making Colombia’s vulnerability to climate change evident. While these conditions should justify a strong approach to climate change communication that motivates decision making and leads to mitigation and adaptation, the majority of sectors still fall short of effectively communicating their climate change messages. Official information about climate change is often too technical and rarely includes a call for action. However, a few exceptions exist, including environmental education materials for children and a noteworthy recent strategy to deliver the Third Communication to the UNFCCC in a form that is more palatable to the general public. Despite strong research on climate change, particularly related to agricultural, environmental, and earth sciences, academic products are rarely communicated in a way that is easily understood by decision makers and has a clear impact on public policy. Messages from the mass media frequently confuse rather than inform the public. For instance, television news refers to weather-related disasters, climate variability, and climate change indiscriminately. This shapes an erroneous idea of climate change among the public and weakens the effectiveness of communications on the issue. The authors contrast the practices of these sectors with those of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) working in Colombia to show how they address the specific climate communication needs facing the country. These NGOs directly face the challenge of working with diverse population groups in this multicultural, multiethnic, and megadiverse country. NGOs customize languages, channels, and messages for different audiences and contexts, with the ultimate goal of building capacity in local communities, influencing policymakers, and sensitizing the private sector. Strategies that result from the work of interdisciplinary groups, involve feedback from the audiences, and incorporate adaptive management have proven to be particularly effective.

Article

The annual climate summits (Conferences of the Parties, or COPs) are major political events that receive considerable media attention. In this way, the topic of climate change returns regularly to both the media and the political agenda. It makes sense, therefore, that communication research regards COPs as occasion to investigating how the media cover climate change. Nevertheless, this strategy has two shortcomings: On the one hand the focus on the conferences might provide a distorted picture—because of the political character of the conferences, the role of political actors and policy-related frames might be overestimated. On the other hand, the political character of the conferences is not always considered appropriately. Most research is mainly interested in the coverage on climate change in the context of the conferences and not in the political discussions taking place at the summits. Future research should address these discussions more intensively, giving more attention especially to the debates in the various online media.

Article

Karen Akerlof, Michelle Covi, and Elizabeth Rohring

Three quarters of the world’s large cities are located on coasts. As climate change causes oceans to warm and expand, and triggers vast influxes of water from melting ice sheets and glaciers, by the end of the 21st century, as many as 650 million people globally may be below sea levels or subject to recurrent flooding. Human beings have always faced threats from coastal storms and flooding, but never have so many of us and so much of our societal infrastructure been in harm’s way. With entire nations facing forced emigration, international online media are framing sea level rise as a human rights concern. Yet sea level rise suffers from generally low media attention and salience as a public issue. Coastal communities tasked with developing adaptation strategies are approaching engagement through new forms of risk visualization and models of environmental decision making. As a subfield of climate communication that addresses a variety of other anthropogenic and natural phenomena, sea level rise communication also calls upon the less politicized field of natural hazards risk communication. This review explores media analyses, audience research, and evaluation of communication outreach and engagement, finding many remaining gaps in our understanding of sea level rise communication.