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date: 28 June 2022

Climate Change Communication in South Africalocked

Climate Change Communication in South Africalocked

  • Sebastian LeviSebastian LeviCentre for Sustainability, Hertie School of Governance

Summary

In South Africa, one of the world’s most carbon-intense economies and a society marked by gross social inequality, climate change is not a popular topic. As of 2018, more than half of the population had never heard of climate change and only one in five South Africans believed that human activities lead to global warming. The communication of climate change in South Africa is influenced by the notorious inequality that the country still suffers decades after the apartheid regime has ended. Few South Africans are able to live a life in prosperity and security on par with life in industrialized nations, more than half of the population are considered poor, almost a third of the population are chronically unemployed, and many work for carbon-intense industries.

The country’s prevalent inequality and its economic dependency on coal influence the way climate change is communicated and interpreted. Environmental NGOs, journalists, and scientists frequently set communication cues on climate change. However, their messages are largely circulated in newspapers catering to an urban and educated readership and resonate less with people living in rural areas or those who rely on employment in the coal and mining sector.

In South Africa, most people hear about climate change in mass media, but journalists frequently lack the resources and training necessary to investigate climate change stories or to interact with local scientists. Environmental NGOs, in contrast, provide easily comprehendible communication cues for unspecialized journalists and often share similar worldviews and demographic backgrounds with dedicated environmental reporters. However, because Black South Africans are underrepresented among environmental journalists and because many affordable local newspapers cannot afford to hire specialized reporters, climate change is covered mostly in high-quality English-language outlets to which most people have no access. Moreover, environmental NGOs are frequently accused of prioritizing abstract ecological concerns, like climate change, over the interests of the South Africans workers, a sentiment that is informed by the country’s history of racial injustice. Counterintuitively, living in a coal area is associated with higher climate change awareness and belief, likely because coal companies and trade unions conduct awareness-raising programs among their workers and because many residents experience the adverse impact of coal mining and combustion firsthand.

Subjects

  • Policy, Politics, and Governance
  • Communication
  • Psychology and Sociology

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