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.
Joseph E. Uscinski, Karen Douglas, and Stephan Lewandowsky
An overwhelming percentage of climate scientists agree that human activity is causing the global climate to change in ways that will have deleterious consequences both for the environment and for humankind. While scientists have alerted both the public and policy makers to the dangers of continuing or increasing the current rate of carbon emission, policy proposals intended to curb carbon emission and thereby mitigate climate change have been resisted by a notable segment of the public. Some of this resistance comes from those not wanting to incur costs or change energy sources (i.e., the carbon-based energy industry). Others oppose policies intended to address climate change for ideological reasons (i.e., they are opposed to the collectivist nature of the solutions usually proposed). But perhaps the most alarming and visible are those who oppose solutions to climate change because they believe, or at least claim to believe, that anthropogenic climate change is not really happening and that climate scientists are lying and their data is fake.
Resistance, in this latter case, sometimes referred to as climate “skepticism” or “denialism,” varies from region to region in strength but worldwide has been a prominent part of a political force strong enough to preclude both domestic and global policy makers from making binding efforts to avert the further effects of anthropogenic climate change. For example, a 2013 poll in the United States showed that almost 40% believed that climate change was a hoax.
Climate skeptics suggest the well-publicized consensus is either manufactured or illusory and that some nefarious force—be it the United Nations, liberals, communists, or authoritarians—want to use climate change as a cover for exerting massive new controls over the populace. This conspiracy-laden rhetoric—if followed to its logical conclusion—expresses a rejection of scientific methods, scientists, and the role that science plays in society.
Skeptic rhetoric, on one hand, may suggest that climate skepticism is psychological and the product of underlying conspiratorial thinking, rather than cognitive and the product of a careful weighing of scientific evidence. On the other hand, it may be that skeptics do not harbor underlying conspiratorial thinking, but rather express their opposition to policy solutions in conspiratorial terms because that is the only available strategy when arguing against an accepted scientific consensus. This tactic of calling into question the integrity of science has been used in other scientific debates (e.g., the link between cigarette smoking and cancer).
Opinion surveys, however, support the view that climate change denialism is driven at least partially by underlying conspiratorial thinking. Belief in climate change conspiracy theories also appears to drive behaviors in ways consistent with the behaviors of people who think in conspiratorial terms: Climate change conspiracy theorists are less likely to participate politically or take actions that could alleviate their carbon footprint. Furthermore, some climate skeptics reject studies showing that their skepticism is partially a product of conspiratorial thinking: They believe such studies are themselves part of the conspiracy.
John Wihbey and Bud Ward
The relationship between scientific experts and news media producers around issues of climate change has been a complicated and often contentious one, as the slow-moving and complex story has frequently challenged, and clashed with, journalistic norms of newsworthiness, speed, and narrative compression. Even as climate scientists have become more concerned by their evidence-based findings involving projected risks, doubts and confusion over communications addressing those risks have increased. Scientists increasingly have been called upon to speak more clearly and forcefully to the public through news media about evidence and risks—and to do so in the face of rapidly changing news media norms that only complicate those communications. Professional science and environment journalists—whose ranks have been thinned steadily by media industry financial pressures—have meanwhile come under more scrutiny in terms of their understanding; accuracy; and, at times, perceived bias.
A number of important organizations have recognized the need to educate and empower a broad range of scientists and journalists to be more effective at communicating about the complexities of climate science and about the societal and economic impacts of a warming climate. For example, organizations such as Climate Communication have been launched to support scientists in their dealings with media, while the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change itself has continued to focus on the communication of climate science. The Earth Journalism Network, Society of Environmental Journalists, Poynter Institute, and the International Center for Journalists have worked to build media capacity globally to cover climate change stories. Efforts at Stanford University, the University of Oxford, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard University, and the University of Rhode Island sponsor programming and fellowships that in part help bolster journalism in this area. Through face-to-face workshops and online efforts, The Yale Project on Climate Change Communication has sought to link the media and science communities. Meanwhile, powerful, widely read sites and blogs such as “Dot Earth,” hosted by the New York Times, Climate Central, Real Climate, The Conversation, and Climate Progress have fostered professional dialogue, greater awareness of science, and called attention to reporting and communications issues.
Journalists and scientists have had ongoing conversations as part of the regular publication and reporting processes, and professional conferences and events bring the two communities together. Issues that continue to animate these discussions include conveying the degree to which climate science can be said to be “settled” and how to address uncertainty.
Through some of these capacity-building efforts, news media have become increasingly aware of audience dynamics including how citizens respond to pessimistic reports, or “doom and gloom,” versus solutions-oriented reports. Professional dialogue has also revolved around the ethical dimensions of conveying a story at the level of global importance. Still, with issues of climate change communication on display for more than two decades now, certain tensions and dynamics persist. Notably, journalists seek clarity from scientists, while climate change experts and advocates for and against taking climate action often continue to demand that journalists resist the temptation to oversimplify or hype the latest empirical findings, while at the same time urging that journalists do not underestimate potential climate risks.
Ishani Mukherjee and Michael Howlett
Policy communication and the resulting influence that information has on policy decision-makers is an especially pertinent topic when it comes to problems of climate change. Notorious for its complexity, uncertainty, and divergence of viewpoints, climate change has earned the title of being the major “wicked” or “super-wicked” problem of our times. A proliferation of expertise, interests, and capacities mark the climate change policymaking landscape and this density of players warrants an advanced framework to understand the ways in which the variety of climate-pertinent knowledge is communicated to policymakers. Moving beyond undifferentiated “two-communities” models of knowledge utilization in policymaking which limit the discussion to the bilateral interactions between knowledge experts or “producers” and information “consumers” of the public sector, this article explores the concept of a policy advisory system, which embodies the different sets of influence that various policy actors can have during policy decision-making and how communication between and among actors is a significant aspect of climate change policymaking. The concept of policy advisory systems is an important new development in the policy studies literature and one that is analytically very applicable to climate policy contexts. Suitably generalizable across representative policy settings, policy advisory systems are comprised of distinct groups of actors who are engaged in the definition of policy problems, the articulation of policy solutions, or the matching of policy problems to solutions. We explore how individual members of these separate sets of actors—namely the epistemic community, which is occupied in discourses about policy problems; the instrument constituencies which define policy instruments; and the advocacy coalitions which compete to have their choice of policy alternatives adopted—interact and communicate with policymakers across climate change policy activities.
Scientific agreement on climate change has strengthened over the past few decades, with around 97% of publishing climate scientists agreeing that human activity is causing global warming. While scientific understanding has strengthened, a small but persistent proportion of the public actively opposes the mainstream scientific position. A number of factors contribute to this rejection of scientific evidence, with political ideology playing a key role. Conservative think tanks, supported with funding from vested interests, have been and continue to be a prolific source of misinformation about climate change. A major strategy by opponents of climate mitigation policies has been to cast doubt on the level of scientific agreement on climate change, contributing to the gap between public perception of scientific agreement and the 97% expert consensus. This “consensus gap” decreases public support for mitigation policies, demonstrating that misconceptions can have significant societal consequences. While scientists need to communicate the consensus, they also need to be aware of the fact that misinformation can interfere with the communication of accurate scientific information. As a consequence, neutralizing the influence of misinformation is necessary. Two approaches to neutralize misinformation involve refuting myths after they have been received by recipients (debunking) or preemptively inoculating people before they receive misinformation (prebunking). Research indicates preemptive refutation or “prebunking” is more effective than debunking in reducing the influence of misinformation. Guidelines to practically implement responses (both preemptive and reactive) can be found in educational research, cognitive psychology, and a branch of psychological research known as inoculation theory. Synthesizing these separate lines of research yields a coherent set of recommendations for educators and communicators. Clearly communicating scientific concepts, such as the scientific consensus, is important, but scientific explanations should be coupled with inoculating explanations of how that science can be distorted.
Kathryn E. Cooper and Erik C. Nisbet
As climate change becomes an increasingly serious problem, mass media are tasked with educating the public. Documentary films and television shows (also called “edutainment”) have been used for decades to communicate about the natural world so that the public may hopefully become informed about science in a simplified, easy-to-understand way. Although producers ostensibly create environmental documentaries in order to inform and/or advocate, theory development and empirical research is limited and insufficient in explaining how this genre influences audiences and why this genre may or may not be an effective means of science communication.
Environmental documentaries have the potential to deeply impact audiences because these films promote learning while viewers are entertained, because engagement with the documentary narrative (story) can overcome biases such as politically driven motivated reasoning (conforming new evidence to existing beliefs) and can leverage biases such as the tendency to rely on affect (emotions) when estimating risks. Documentary storytelling can also enhance learning by connecting the causes and consequences of climate change in a sequential narrative.
Climate change is a highly contentious political issue, which is reflected in the diversity of viewpoints found in climate change documentaries despite scientific consensus about the issue. While many of these films serve an educational purpose, others are geared toward advocacy. These advocacy programs aim to mobilize value-congruent audiences to engage in personal and collective action and/or to demand policy change. However, people prefer messages that align with their preexisting values, and so the belief disparity between climate change advocates and deniers grows with increasing media exposure as audiences with different beliefs watch and receive climate change messages in very different ways. Filmmakers and scientists must focus future efforts on creating visually engaging narratives within documentaries to promote both education and advocacy to diverse audiences.
Courtney Plante, Johnie J. Allen, and Craig A. Anderson
Given the dire nature of many researchers’ predictions about the effects of global climate change (e.g., rising sea levels, droughts, more extreme weather), it comes as little surprise that less attention has been paid to the subtler, less direct outcomes of rapid climate change: psychological, sociological, political, and economic effects. In this chapter we explore one such outcome in particular: the effects of rapid climate change on aggression. We begin by exploring the potential for climate change to directly affect aggression in individuals, focusing on research showing the relationship between uncomfortably hot ambient temperature and aggression. Next, we review several lines of research illustrating ways that climate change can indirectly increase aggression in individuals. We then shift our focus from individuals to the effects of climate change on group-level aggression. We finish by addressing points of contention, including the challenge that the effects of climate change on aggression are too remote and too small to be considered relevant.
Ashley A. Anderson
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.
Joseph P. Reser and Graham L. Bradley
There is a strong view among climate change researchers and communicators that the persuasive tactic of arousing fear in order to promote precautionary motivation and behavior is neither effective nor appropriate in the context of climate change communication and engagement. Yet the modest research evidence that exists with respect to the use of fear appeals in communicating climate change does not offer adequate empirical evidence—either for or against the efficacy of fear appeals in this context—nor would such evidence adequately address the issue of the appropriateness of fear appeals in climate change communication. Extensive research literatures addressing preparedness, prevention, and behavior change in the areas of public health, marketing, and risk communication generally nonetheless provide consistent empirical support for the qualified effectiveness of fear appeals in persuasive social influence communications and campaigns. It is also noteworthy that the language of climate change communication is typically that of “communication and engagement,” with little explicit reference to targeted social influence or behavior change, although this is clearly implied. Hence underlying and intertwined issues here are those of cogent arguments versus largely absent evidence, and effectiveness as distinct from appropriateness. These matters are enmeshed within the broader contours of the contested political, social, and environmental, issues status of climate change, which jostle for attention in a 24/7 media landscape of disturbing and frightening communications concerning the reality, nature, progression, and implications of global climate change. All of this is clearly a challenge for evaluation research attempting to examine the nature and effectiveness of fear appeals in the context of climate change communication, and for determining the appropriateness of designed fear appeals in climate change communications intended to both engage and influence individuals, communities, and “publics” with respect to the ongoing threat and risks of climate change. There is an urgent need to clearly and effectively communicate the full nature and implications of climate change, in the face of this profound risk and rapidly unfolding reality. All such communications are, inherently, frightening warning messages, quite apart from any intentional fear appeals. How then should we put these arguments, evidence, and challenges “on the table” in our considerations and recommendations for enhancing climate change communication—and addressing the daunting and existential implications of climate change?
Although future generations—starting with today’s youth—will bear the brunt of negative effects related to climate change, some research suggests that they have little concern about climate change nor much intention to take action to mitigate its impacts. One common explanation for this indifference and inaction is lack of scientific knowledge. It is often said that youth do not understand the science; therefore, they are not concerned. Indeed, in science educational research, numerous studies catalogue the many misunderstandings students have about climate science. However, this knowledge-deficit perspective is not particularly informative in charting a path forward for climate-change education. This path is important because climate science will be taught in more depth as states adopt the Next Generation Science Standards within the next few years. How do we go about creating the educational experiences that students need to be able to achieve climate-science literacy and feel as if they could take action? First, the literature base in communication, specifically about framing must be considered, to identify potentially more effective ways to craft personally relevant and empowering messages for students within their classrooms.