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Article

Although there is an abundance of social scientific research focused on public opinion and climate change, there remains much to learn about how individuals come to understand, feel, and behave relative to this issue. Efforts to understand these processes are commonly directed toward media depictions, because media represent a primary conduit through which people encounter information about climate change. The majority of research in this area has focused on news media portrayals of climate change. News media depictions, however, represent only a part of the media landscape, and a relatively small but growing body of work has focused on examining portrayals of climate change in entertainment media (i.e., films, television programs, etc.) and their implications. This article provides a comprehensive overview of this area of research, summarizing what is currently known about portrayals of climate change in entertainment media, the individual-level effects of these portrayals, and areas ripe for future research. Our overview suggests that the extant work has centered primarily on a small subset of high-profile climate change films. Examination of the content of these films has been mostly rhetorical and has often presumed negative audience effects. Studies that specifically set out to explore possible effects have often unearthed evidence suggesting short-term contributions to viewers’ perceptions of climate change, specifically in terms of heightened awareness, concern, and motivation. Improving the breadth and depth of research in this area, we contend, can stem from more robust theorizing, analyses that focus on a more diverse menu of entertainment media and the interactions among them, and increasingly complex analytical efforts to capture long-term effects.

Article

Communication campaigns play a key role in shaping what people think, feel, and do about climate change, and help shape public agendas at the local, national, and international levels. As more people around the world gain regular access to the Internet, online and social media are becoming significant contexts in which they come into contact with—or fail to come into contact with—news, debates, action, and social input related to climate change. This makes it important to understand the campaigning that takes place online. Many actors make concerted efforts to engage publics on climate change and go online to do so. These include businesses; governments and international organizations; scientists and scientific institutions; organizations, groups and individuals in civil society; public intellectuals and political, religious and entertainment leaders. Not all are ultimately concerned with climate change or engaging publics as such. Nevertheless, most campaigns involve at least one of four goals: to inform, raise awareness, and shape public understanding about the science, problems, and politics of climate change; to change consumer and citizen behavior; to network and connect concerned publics; to visibly mobilize consumers or citizens to put pressure on decision-makers. Online climate change campaigns are an emerging phenomenon and field of study. The campaigns appeared on broad front around the turn of the millennium, and have since become increasingly complex. In addition to the elements that produce variance in offline campaigns, scholars examine the role of online and social media in how campaigners render the issues and pursue their campaigns, how publics respond, and what this means for the development of the broader public discourse. Core debates concern the capacity and impact of online campaigning in the areas of informing, activating and including publics, and the ambivalences inherent in leveraging technology to engage publics on climate change.

Article

In terms of climate change, Middle East and Arab countries cover a vast and diverse region with stark variations in natural resources, ecological footprints, and political priorities. It includes large oil and gas producing nations (the Gulf States) as well as resource-depleted countries (Jordan, Syria). Most countries rely on carbon energy, while a few have developed an alternative vision based on renewables (Morocco). It is home to both highly affluent countries (e.g., UAE) as well as poor and conflict-ridden societies (Iraq, the Levant, Yemen). Although the region as a whole is particularly vulnerable to climate change due to low levels of socio-ecological resilience, potential conflicts over natural resources (e.g., water), and almost chronic refugee and immigration crises, there are considerable differences in the region’s adaptive resources and mitigation strategies. This regional heterogeneity, however, is rarely reflected in the region’s climate change communication, which (with a few exceptions) tends to follow similar communicative patterns. Long-running social and religious conflicts in the Middle East have pushed climate change down the agenda of public opinion and news reporting in most Arab countries. Moreover, many Arab countries share a semi-authoritarian media system, which seems to exacerbate this tendency. In order to avoid crossing editorial redlines, climate change reporting is mostly copyedited from international news agencies. Local reporting is sparse as it may easily touch on sensitive issues concerning inadequate governance. Consequently, climate change has traditionally been covered as foreign news with a focus on international climate change negotiations—and hence limited relevance for a regional readership. However, new information technology and an increasing focus on raising awareness on climate change points toward alternative channels of climate change communication in Middle Eastern and Arab countries.

Article

Bruno Takahashi and Alejandra Martinez

Peru is one of the most biodiverse countries on the planet. More than 65% of the country is covered by the Amazon rainforest, and the Andes region is home to more than 70% of the world’s tropical glaciers. This abundance of natural resources also makes the country highly vulnerable to the effects of climate change. The Peruvian government therefore requires the development and implementation of action plans to adapt to the present and future impacts of climate change. At the same time, it requires the development of sound communication strategies that include collaboration with stakeholders such as the media and nongovernmental organizations. Media coverage of climate change can have important implications for policy decision making. This is especially salient in a context of low information availability where media reports play an important role in filling knowledge gaps that in turn can affect the way policies are developed. Climate change, as an environmental and social issue in Peru, is not highly politicized, as it is in countries such as the United States and Australia. There is no major debate about the reality of climate change, the scientific evidence, or the need for political action and technological and policy innovations. This approach is also reflected in the media’s coverage of the issue. Peru’s media tend to focus on climate change mostly during key policy events. Among these major events was the capital city of Lima’s hosting in 2010 of the V meeting of Latin American, Caribbean, and European Union countries, where the main topics of discussion were climate change and poverty. In addition, Lima hosted the COP20, which preceded the Paris meeting in 2015 that led to a major global agreement. The media’s coverage of these events was intense. These were the exceptions: A good proportion of Peru’s newspaper coverage comes from international news wire agencies. Coverage from those sources focuses mostly on mitigation actions, instead of adaptation, which is more relevant to vulnerable countries such as Peru. This coverage is in line with the government’s view of mitigation as a business opportunity. There is, however, a lack of studies that explore, first, the factors that affect this coverage, and, second, the way other mediums such as television or radio cover the issue. Strategic communication by governmental organizations, as well as accurate and fact-based media reporting about climate change, is necessary to better communicate the urgency and magnitude of the problem to the general public, grassroots organizations, industry, and international agencies, among others.

Article

Nelya Koteyko and Dimitrinka Atanasova

Discourse analysis is an interdisciplinary field of inquiry that has been increasingly used by climate change communication scholars since the late 1990s. In its broadest sense, discourse analysis is the study of the social through analysis of language, including face-to-face talk, written media texts, and documents, as well as images and symbols. Studies in this field encompass a broad range of theories and analytic approaches for investigating meaning. Due to its focus on the sociocultural and political context in which text and talk occur, discourse analysis is pertinent to the concerns of climate change communication scholars as it has the potential to reveal the ideological dimensions of stakeholder beliefs and the dissemination of climate change-related information in the media. In contrast to studies under the rubric of frame analysis and survey-based analyses of public perceptions, this research places emphasis on the situated study of different stakeholders involved in climate change communication. Here attention is paid not only to the content being communicated (e.g., themes) but also to the linguistic forms and contexts that shape language and interaction. Both of these require an understanding of audiences’ cultural, political, and socioeconomic conditions. From the participatory perspective, discourse analysis can therefore illuminate the moral, ethical, and cultural dimensions of the climate change issue.

Article

Media research has historically concentrated on the many uncertainties in climate science either as a dominant discourse in media treatments measured by various forms of quantitative and qualitative content analysis or as the presence of skepticism, in its various manifestations, in political discourse and media coverage. More research is needed to assess the drivers of such skepticism in the media, the changing nature of skeptical discourse in some countries, and important country differences as to the prevalence of skepticism in political debate and media coverage. For example, why are challenges to mainstream climate science common in some Anglophone countries such as the United Kingdom, the United States, and Australia but not in other Western nations? As the revolution in news consumption via new players and platforms causes an increasingly fragmented media landscape, there are significant gaps in understanding where, why, and how skepticism appears. In particular, we do not know enough about the ways new media players depict the uncertainties around climate science and how this may differ from previous coverage in traditional and mainstream news media. We also do not know how their emphasis on visual content affects audience understanding of climate change.

Article

Emmet Fox and Henrike Rau

Climate change communication research in Ireland has only recently emerged as a distinct field of inquiry. Research to date reveals the marginalization of climate change in the mainstream media, which is further amplified by its segregation from closely related topics of major public concern in Ireland such as extreme weather events, flooding, energy resources, or economic recovery. Content analyses of media coverage from the late 1990s until today show the coexistence of different narratives, with ecological modernization emerging as an increasingly dominant discourse that is supported by powerful actors in Irish society. In contrast, more radical and alternative perspectives on the subject of climate change, including those associated with class-centered and growth-sceptic views of society and economic development, remain largely absent. Efforts to date by key public figures, environmental non-governmental organizations (ENGOs), and environmentalists to promote a more nuanced and citizen-centered climate change debate have concentrated on both traditional and nontraditional news outlets in an attempt to reach diverse audiences. Conventional media such as the national broadcaster RTÉ or the broadsheet newspaper The Irish Times nevertheless continue to fundamentally shape public debate in Ireland, making their future involvement in nuanced and balanced climate change debates central to any effort to shift thinking, policy, and action.

Article

Across many parts of the globe the relationship between journalists and news sources has been transformed by digital technologies, increased reliance on public relations practitioners, and the rise of citizen journalism. With fewer gatekeepers, and the growing influence of digital and social media, identifying whose voices are authoritative in making sense of complex climate science proves an increasing challenge. An increasing array of news sources are vying for their particular perspective to be established including scientists, government, industry, environmental NGOs, individual citizens and, more recently, celebrities. The boundaries between audience, consumer and producer are less defined and the distinction between ‘factual’ and ‘opinion-based’ reporting has become more blurred. All these developments suggest the need for a more complex account of the myriad influences on journalistic decisions. More research needs to examine behind-the-scenes relations between sources and journalists, and the efforts of news sources to frame the issues or seek to silence news media attention. Also although we now know a great deal more about marginalized sources and their communication strategies we know relatively little about those of powerful multinational corporate organizations, governments and lobby groups. The shifting media environment and the networked nature of information demand a major rethinking of early media-centric approaches to examining journalist/source relations as applied to climate change. The metaphors of ‘network’ and field’ capture the diverse linkages across different spheres better than the Hierarchy of Influences model.

Article

Climate change communication has a long history in Germany, where the so-called “climate catastrophe” has received widespread public attention from the 1980s onwards. The article reviews climate change communication and the respective research in the country over the last decades. First, it provides a socio-political history of climate change communication in Germany. It shows how scientists were successful in setting the issue on the public and policy agendas early on, how politicians and the media emphasized the climate change threat, how corporations abstained from interventions into the debate and how skeptical voices, as a result, remained marginalized. Second, the article reviews scholarship on climate change communication in Germany. It shows how research on the issue has expanded since the mid-2000s, highlights major strands and results, as well as open questions and ongoing debates.

Article

Maxwell Boykoff and Gesa Luedecke

During the past three decades, elite news media have become influential translators of climate change linking science, policy, and the citizenry. Historical trends in public discourse—shaped in significant part by elite media—demonstrate news media’s critical role in shaping public perception and the level of concern towards climate change. Media representations of climate change and global warming are embedded in social, cultural, political, and economic dimensions that influence individual-level processes such as everyday journalistic practices. Media have a strong influence on policy decision-making, attitudes, perspectives, intentions, and behavioral change, but those connections can be challenging to pinpoint; consequently, examinations of elite news coverage of climate change, particularly in recent decades, have sought to gain a stronger understanding of these complex and dynamic webs of interactions. In so doing, research has more effectively traced how media have taken on varied roles in the climate change debate, from watch dogs to lap dogs to guard dogs in the public sphere. Within these areas of research, psychological aspects of media influence have been relatively underemphasized. However, interdisciplinary and problem-focused research investigations of elite media coverage stand to advance considerations of public awareness, discourse, and engagement. Elite news media critically contribute to public discourse and policy priorities through their “mediating” and interpretative influences. Therefore, a review of examinations of these dynamics illuminate the bridging role of elite news coverage of climate change between formal science and policy, and everyday citizens in the public sphere.

Article

Art Dewulf, Daan Boezeman, and Martinus Vink

Climate change communication in the Netherlands started in the 1950s, but it was not until the late 1970s that the issue earned a place on the public agenda, as an aspect of the energy problem, and in the shadow of controversy about nuclear energy. Driven largely by scientific reports and political initiatives, the first climate change wave can be observed in the period from 1987 to 1989, as part of a broader environmental consciousness wave. The Netherlands took an active role in international climate change initiatives at the time but struggled to achieve domestic emission reductions throughout the 1990s. The political turmoil in the early 2000s dominated Dutch public debate, until An Inconvenient Truth triggered the second climate change wave in 2006–2007, generating peak media attention and broad societal activity. The combination of COP15 and Climategate in late 2009 marked a turning point in Dutch climate change communication, with online communication and climate-sceptic voices gaining much more prominence. Climate change mitigation was pushed down on the societal and political agenda in the 2010s. Climate change adaptation had received much attention during the second climate change wave and had been firmly institutionalized with respect to flood defense and other water management issues. By 2015 a landmark climate change court case and the Paris Agreement at COP21 were fueling climate change communication once again.

Article

Climate change communication is a relatively new area of research in India—a country that ranks high in vulnerability due to poverty, yet a major emitter of greenhouse gases (GHGs). This article reviews climate change communication research in the country from the 1990s to the present. First, it provides a political economy framework to explore the issue of climate change communication amid environment and development debates in India. It shows that elite discourses of climate change have been shifting from externalizing the problem and solutions to a more recent co-benefits approach to address the twin challenges of climate change and economic development. Second, the article reviews research about media coverage and finds that although Indian media portrays climate change as real and human-caused and reports its severe impacts in India, it largely externalizes the problem, with slight changes in recent coverage highlighting domestic responsibility and equity. Third, reviewing studies on public awareness and understanding, it shows that while the Indian public is largely unaware of the term climate change, public opinion surveys and qualitative research indicate that Indians report experiencing changing weather conditions in their local area—an important lesson to communicating climate change in India. Finally, it explores future opportunities for climate change communication research in India.

Article

Pieter Maeseele and Yves Pepermans

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.

Article

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

Social scientists and media critics have often been befuddled about how and why news coverage of important issues takes the shapes that it does. While some issues seem to behave according to well-established patterns, others don’t. The issue of climate change is one that has been explained in numerous ways, often from a cyclical perspective. This perspective suggests that news attention naturally varies up and down, often cued by certain focusing events that draw attention for a time, after which attention wanes again. These observations are usually matched with the perspective that attention should normatively not be cyclical, that the issue is one that deserves continuous attention until it is resolved. All of this is in the context that there are significant doubts about the objective role of newsmakers in this process. Climate change is an issue that has cut across a period of news evolution in which objectively neutral news has become even less prominent than it once was, if it ever was. News outlets with specific ideological agendas, a plethora of bloggers and websites with an axe to grind, and a variety of conspiracy theories about climate have obscured how news can even hope to cover this issue. With “belief” in climate change now becoming an important token of how one identifies oneself politically, we can wonder whether the issue can ever receive a fair hearing from a scientific perspective.

Article

Over the past two decades, the global news industry has embarked upon a major project of economic, organizational, and technological restructuring. In organizational terms, successive waves of mergers and buyouts have yielded a global news landscape where most of the larger firms are owned by shareholders and run by executives whose singular focus is on rationalizing news production and improving profitability. Although in some cases, these shareholders and executives have used their authority to influence climate coverage directly, more often their goals are non-ideological: reducing labor costs and increasing revenues. At the same time, in a parallel development, the digital media revolution not only has spawned a host of new online competitors but also has cut deeply into the advertising revenue once enjoyed by traditional media firms. Within legacy news organizations, these industrial and technological trends have converged to dramatically intensify the work pressures facing environmental journalists. For example, in an effort to reduce costs, many firms have reduced newsroom staff to a small core of multi-tasking reporters, supported by a wider web of part-time freelancers. In this process, the science and environment beat is often the first to go, with environmental specialists among the first to be reassigned or downsized (and pushed into freelance work). For all reporters, there is increased pressure to produce more stories in less time on multiple media platforms, a trend that, in turn, enhances the power of special interests to influence climate coverage through public relations and other external information subsidies. Due to these converging industrial and technological trends, environmental reporters now work in a new media ecosystem that is complex, subject to contradictory pressures, and in many ways hostile to the production of high-quality climate news. When the environmental beat is cut, climate change often becomes the purview of general assignment reporters who lack experience and expertise. For their part, freelance specialists continue to cover climate news, but their ability to sustain this coverage over the long term is constrained by their part-time status. Finally, although niche climate blogs have provided welcome spaces for environmental journalists to produce in-depth coverage, these outlets usually reach only tiny audiences composed of the already-engaged. In short, without significant action, the regrettable status quo of climate news—that is, an episodic sprinkling of climate coverage scattered across the media ecosystem—will continue indefinitely. Policy-makers should therefore restore long-term institutional and economic support for environmental journalists specializing in climate science and policy.

Article

While initial research on climate change communication focused on traditional media, such as news coverage of climate change and pro-environmental campaigns, scholars are increasingly focusing on the role of social media platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Sina Weibo. Social media platforms provide a space for three important domains of climate change communication: information, discussion, and mobilization. First, social media platforms have been used by scientists, activists, journalists, and ordinary people to share and receive reports about climate change. Policymakers and academics also use social media for climate change research. Second, social media platforms provide users with a space to discuss climate change issues. Scientists and journalists use social media to interact with the public, who also use social media to criticize policies, as well as media coverage. Finally, social media platforms have been used to coordinate rescue and relief operations in the aftermath of climate change–related disasters, as well as to organize movements and campaigns about climate change. However, most research about climate change communication in social media spaces are based on quantitative analysis of tweets from Western countries. While this body of work has been illuminating, our understanding of social media’s increasingly important role in climate change communication will benefit from a more holistic research approach that explores social media use in climate change communication across a variety of platforms, cultures, and media systems.

Article

Early research on the relationship between social media use and its relationship to climate change opinion, knowledge, and behavior suggests several positive impacts. Social media encourages greater knowledge of climate change, mobilization of climate change activists, space for discussing the issue with others, and online discussions that frame climate change as a negative for society. Social media, however, does provide space for framing climate change skeptically and activating those with a skeptical perspective of climate change. Further examination of the relationship between social media use and climate change perceptions is warranted.

Article

Climate-change communication in Denmark was initially related to a broader environmental agenda and to discussions surrounding U.N. charters on sustainability, reflecting a traditional strong Scandinavian commitment to U.N. institutions. Although climate-change communication has since developed into an independent field among academics and environmentalists, some of the earlier links to questions of sustainability and development have been preserved. Consequently, climate-change communication has been studied in a variety of public arenas in addition to the media system. These venues include parliamentary debates, regional discussions of renewable energy systems, cultural and artistic representations, as well as commercial and strategic discourses on green technologies—the latter representing an important Danish export market. Thus, climate-change communication is studied in several academic disciplines involving both quantitative and qualitative research strategies. Media representations of climate change comprise the largest area of research on climate-change communication and have been investigated by media, communication, and journalism studies. Climate-change reporting is marked by substantial public consensus concerning the scientific evidence of climate change and the moral obligations of the industrialized world. It reflects a Scandinavian culture based on political corporatism in both the political system and the media system, which under normal circumstances results in a moderate rather than polarized public debate. Outright climate-change denial has consequently been marginal, although the controversies generated by Bjørn Lomborg, author of The Skeptical Environmentalist, on how to prioritize climate change in relation to other global problems, can be regarded as the Danish equivalent to climate skepticism. Another characteristic of Danish climate change communication is the imprint left by the failure of the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference (COP15), which was experienced as particularly traumatic in the host country. Like most countries, Denmark experienced a sharp decline in climate change coverage in the aftermath of COP15. However, whereas other countries have slowly picked up the intensity of media reporting following COP15, a similar increase has not materialized in Denmark, illustrating how a failed climate (and media) event can have lasting effects on a nation’s climate change communication.

Article

In comparison to fossil fuels that emit greenhouse gases, nuclear power plants are a cleaner energy source that could help to mitigate the problems of climate change. Despite this, the general public often associates nuclear energy with risks that include nuclear accidents, nuclear waste contamination, nuclear weapons proliferation, and many others. People’s experience with the 1979 Three Mile Island incident in Pennsylvania and the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster in Ukraine have caused a sharp decline in public support for nuclear energy over the past few decades. In addition, media images of the 2011 Fukushima-Daichii nuclear accident are still fresh in the minds of the public. These now iconic media images and portrayals have perpetuated a perception of nuclear energy as a risky technology. Against these backdrops, scientists, communication practitioners and other key stakeholders increasingly face an uphill struggle to communicate about nuclear energy as a possible strategy for addressing climate change. Though the general public may reluctantly accept nuclear energy for climate change mitigation, research suggests that messages emphasizing the benefits of nuclear power for energy security and economic growth appear to have greater impact on public acceptance of the technology. Furthermore, public perception of nuclear energy is shaped by a host of other factors such as trust in nuclear governing institutions, knowledge, political inclinations, geographical proximity, and socio-demographic variables. At the same time, nuclear experts and the general public differ in their perceptions of risk, in nature and strength, relative to nuclear energy. Understanding these key differences between the experts and the public, and how beliefs, values, and perceptions influence public acceptance of nuclear energy is necessary to formulate effective public communication and engagement strategies.