Anthony Leiserowitz and Nicholas Smith
Affective imagery, or connotative meanings, play an important role in shaping public risk perceptions, policy support, and broader responses to climate change. These simple “top-of-mind” associations and their related affect help reveal how diverse audiences understand and interpret global warming. And as a relatively simple set of measures, they are easily incorporated into representative surveys, making it possible to identify, measure, and monitor how connotative meanings are distributed throughout a population and how they change over time. Affective image analysis can help identify distinct interpretive communities of like-minded individuals who share their own set of common meanings and interpretations. The images also provide a highly sensitive measure of changes in public discourse. As scientists, political elites, advocates, and the media change the frames, images, icons, and emotions they use to communicate climate change, they can influence the interpretations of the larger public. Likewise, as members of the public directly or vicariously experience specific events or learn more about climate risks, they construct their own connotative meanings, which can in turn influence larger currents of public discourse. This article traces the development of affective imagery analysis, reviews the studies that have implemented it, examines how affective images influence climate change risk perceptions and policy support, and charts several future directions of research.
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.
Linda S. Prokopy, Wendy-Lin Bartels, Gary Burniske, and Rebecca Power
Agricultural extension has evolved over the last 200 years from a system of top-down dissemination of information from experts to farmers to a more complex system, in which a diversity of knowledge producers and farmers work together to co-produce information. Following a detailed history of the evolution of extension in the United States, this article describes an example from the southeastern United States that illustrates how innovative institutional arrangements enable land-grant universities to actively engage farmers and extension agents as key partners in the knowledge generation process. A second U.S. example shows that private retailers are more influential than extension in influencing large-scale farmers’ farm management decisions in the midwestern United States. However, these private retailers trust extension as a source of climate change information and thus partnerships are important for extension. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) have been an important source of extension services for smallholder farmers across the world, and examples from the NGO CARE indicate that a participatory and facilitative approach works well for climate change communication. Collectively, these examples emphasize that the role of agricultural extension in climate change communication is essential in the context of both developed and developing countries and with both smallholder farmers and large-scale farmers. These case studies illustrate the effectiveness of a co-production approach, the importance of partners and donors, and the changing landscape of agricultural extension delivery.
Julia B. Corbett and Brett Clark
The communication strategy of simply sharing more scientific information has not effectively engaged and connected people to climate change in ways that facilitate understanding and encourage action. In part, this is because climate change is a so-called wicked problem, given that it is socially complex, has many interdependencies, and lacks simple solutions. For many people, climate change is generally seen as something abstract and distant—something that they know about, but do not “feel.” The arts and humanities can play an important role in disrupting the social and cultural worldviews that filter climate information and separate the public from the reality of climate change. Whether it is the visual arts, dance, theater, literature, comedy, or film, the arts and humanities present engaging stories, corporally sensed and felt experiences, awareness of interdependency with the world, emotional meanings, and connection with place. Climate stories, especially those based on lived experiences, offer distinct ways to engage a variety of senses. They allow the “invisibility” of climate change to be seen, felt, and imagined in the past, present, and future. They connect global issues to conditions close to home and create space to grieve and experience loss. They encourage critical reflection of existing social structures and cultural and moral norms, thus facilitating engagement beyond the individual level. The arts and humanities hold great potential to help spur necessary social and cultural change, but research is needed on their reach and efficacy.
Donald W. Hine, Wendy J. Phillips, Aaron B. Driver, and Mark Morrison
Scientists and policy makers face significant challenges when attempting to engage the public about climate change. An important first step is to understand the number and nature of the audiences one plans to target—a process known as audience segmentation. Segmentation involves identifying, within an audience or target population, homogenous subgroups that share similar demographic and/or psychographic profiles. After segmenting an audience, climate change communicators can target their messages based on the unique characteristics of each subgroup. For example, to stimulate engagement and behavior change, messages aimed at audiences that are skeptical about climate change may require different content and framing than messages aimed at audiences already deeply concerned about climate change.
The notion of matching message content to audience characteristics has a long history, dating back to the Ancient Greeks. More recently, audience segmentation has played a central role in targeted advertising and also social marketing, which uses marketing principles to help “sell” ideas and behaviors that benefit society. Applications to climate change communication are becoming more common, with major segmentation and communication initiatives being implemented across the globe.
Messages crafted to meet the needs of specific audience segments are more likely to be read, understood, and recalled than generic ones, and are also more likely to change behavior. However, despite these successes, the approach has not been uniformly embraced. Controversies have emerged related to the cost effectiveness of segmentation strategies, choice of segmentation variables, potential effects related to social stigmatization, whether segmentation encourages shallow (as opposed to deep) change, the extent to which segments are “found” as opposed to socially constructed by researchers, and whether interindividual differences are best conceptualized in terms of categories or dimensions.
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.
Indigenous experiences with climate change have become increasingly visible through media stories of rising sea levels, heavy storms, and coastal erosion due to climate change in places as different as Tuvula in the South Pacific and Shishmaref in the Alaskan Arctic. Despite these bursts of attention, indigenous concerns and experiences have not been well or diversely represented in media coverage, nor have they been consistently studied in media scholarship—nor until recently, have indigenous people or knowledge been mentioned in major climate agreements and scientific assessments. There is, however, a growing body of interdisciplinary scholarship that draws on indigenous knowledge, experiences, and activism related to climate change.
Indigenous peoples comprise 5% of the world’s population and live in over 90 countries around the world. Because indigenous communities are often located outside major urban centers, indigenous peoples are likely to suffer disproportionately from the impacts of climate change. Many indigenous people live in close connection with the ecosystems in their region, and collectively held Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) is passed down through multiple generations, providing in-depth, systematic, meaningful, and historically informed views of climate change and potential pathways for resilience and adaptation.
Indigenous people have often been portrayed in media coverage as victims with little attention paid to TEK, communal resilience, human rights and climate justice frameworks, or the historical contexts that may amplify climate change impacts. While indigenous people have diverse circumstances and histories, many are likely to have suffered enormous upheaval in recent centuries due to colonialism, resource development, economic shifts, loss of human rights, and lack of self-determination. Climate change often intensifies existing vulnerabilities and risks. These deeply intertwined social and environmental crises create distinct challenges for considering how and what climate change means for diverse indigenous peoples, how to address it at all levels of governance, and how media can and should be accountable to and represent indigenous publics.
M. Teresa Mercado-Sáez and César Galarza
Climate change research in Argentina focuses on its physical aspects (natural sciences) and not so much on the social aspects, beyond the various surveys measuring perceptions and concerns of Argentinians about climate change. There are few studies that address the problem of communicating the issue from a social sciences standpoint, and these refer to analysis of its coverage in the leading newspapers. And almost all have been published in Spanish. The links between media coverage, policy, and public perceptions in Argentina have not been the subject of academic research thus far. Given the lack of specific bibliography examining the climate change communication from a transversal outlook, in-depth interviews were used to find this out. This study presents an overview of the communication of climate change in Argentina considering not only the journalistic point of view but also that of other social actors. Five areas of interest were defined: the political, the scientific, the media, NGO environmentalists, and what this article refers to as “other sectors.” This fifth area incorporated other voices from the business sector or the non-specialized civil sphere in order to complement the panorama of representative actors that have something to say about the communication of the climate change in Argentina.
Research on climate change communication is a neglected field in Austria. Only slowly, scientists as well as policy makers are entering the domain of communicating climate change, especially in subprojects of larger funding initiatives by the Austrian Environment Ministry and the Ministry for Transport, Innovation and Technology. In the field of communication research, only sporadic studies can be found: Some of them are investigating science-policy-interfaces and communication among stakeholders; others are focusing on awareness of climate change, especially in climate sensitive areas like (winter) tourism, agriculture, and forestry, which are significant economic fields in Austria and in which major efforts have to be taken to enhance adaptive capacities. Only a few studies are dealing with media representations of climate. Therefore, this article outlines a future research program, based on the assessment of existing scholarship. More scientific efforts should be given to the following fields of research: public communication of stakeholders, studies on media representation of climate change and framing and its effects as well as comparative studies with countries sharing comparable climate scenarios, and the strong need for adapting to climate change (e.g., from Alpine regions) as well as similar political structures.
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.