María Carmen Erviti and Bienvenido León
It is not easy to determine the precise moment when climate change became a public communication issue in Spain. Among early references, the national newspaper El País published a story titled “World climate is going to change,” on November 17, 1976, and the term “global warming,” imported from the United States, appeared frequently in the media, from 1988 onward. However, academic research about communication of this important issue is relatively recent. A seminar held in 2005 warned that there were “no specific studies on the way the Spanish citizenry is facing the climate change threat” (II Seminario de Comunicación, Educación y Participación frente al Cambio Climático, Lekaroz, Navarra). This seminar precipitated the first study on public perception of climate change in Spain. According to more recent research, 90.1% of Spanish citizens are aware that climate change is happening, whereas only 4.6% are not. Historical records indicate that awareness has grown consistently in the early 21st century, with awareness levels that are similar to those of other countries. However, although there exists a strong consensus within the scientific community on the existence and the anthropogenic origin of climate change, polls indicate that only a small part of the Spanish population (39.0%) is aware of this agreement; a figure that is similar to that of other countries, such as the United States. In addition, two thirds of the Spanish population (64.4%) believe that climate change is mainly a consequence of human activities; a higher percentage than in other countries, like the United States. This ambivalent picture is not surprising, considering climate change is a marginal topic for mainstream Spanish media. According to a study conducted in 2005 and 2011, only 0.2% of all stories in the main national newspapers and 0.19% of national TV news focused on climate change, a lower percentage than in other countries. Media coverage of this issue has fluctuated since the 1990s, depending on several factors, like the existence of links to current affairs (such as international climate summits), notable report publications (from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), and public engagement efforts (such as the Al Gore film An Inconvenient Truth). As far as the quality of the coverage is concerned, research shows similar trends to those detected internationally, including politicization, superficiality, and catastrophism. However, compared to other countries, there is a lower representation of skeptic viewpoints in the Spanish media that may be related to a weaker public visibility of skeptic think tanks and personalities.
Academic interest in climate change communication has risen since 2010. Only four publications (books or articles) were released from 2001 to 2005, whereas more than 30 appeared in the period 2011–2015. Research has primarily focused on public perception and media coverage of climate change and has been conducted mainly by four universities (Universidad Complutense, Universidad de Málaga, Universidad de Santiago de Compostela, and Universidad de Navarra). Communication actions related to climate change have been carried out by several nongovernmental organizations, often as part of international events and campaigns. In the early 21st century, national and regional public institutions have conducted several campaigns to communicate and raise climate change awareness, producing several exhibitions and publications, mainly on climate change mitigation.
Several forums have suggested that the current weaknesses could benefit from a closer relationship among the media and scientific institutions. This could contribute to provide more credible information on the reality of climate change, as well as the options for mitigation and adaptation. Future research could also address climate change coverage in online media and social networks, as well as reception studies, currently underrepresented in academic studies conducted in the country.
The contribution summarizes the topic of climate change communication in Switzerland. The development of the topic of “climate change” is described and located within the general area of environmental politics in Switzerland, based on the specifics of Switzerland as a small, federal state, and non-EU member with direct democratic political processes. Climate change communication then is analyzed based on the results of several content analyses, mostly of Swiss print media, which focus on intensity of coverage, topics, and media frames. In the last part, the perception of and attitudes towards environment and climate change are presented and compared to other countries, based on public opinion survey data.
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.
Mehmet Ali Uzelgun and Ümit Şahin
The case of Turkey provides some insight into the socio-political and communicative processes taking place at the periphery of global climate governance efforts. Turkey’s 12-year delayed entry into the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change regime (in 2004) and its being one of the last signatories to the Kyoto Protocol (in 2009) has hampered climate-relevant efforts in the country in many ways. This includes institutionalization at national and local levels, the development of relevant national policies, and communication activities.
Climate change communication activities in Turkey can be divided into two major categories: the earlier advocacy activities, and the period of mass communication. The earlier activist or advocacy group communication efforts began around 2000, and have contributed significantly to mainstreaming climate change. Paralleling the government’s position towards the issue in many ways, the national-level media activities have remained nominal until 2007, when escalating local weather extremes were widely associated with climate change.
Research in climate change communication in Turkey commenced only recently. Although the studies are limited both in scope and quantity, existing evidence suggests that 2007 was crucial in setting the terms of the debate in the country. Mobilizations at both international and national levels in 2009 made that year another landmark for climate change communication and policy in Turkey. International organizations and governance agencies have also taken active roles in both communication and research activities, and in the translation of governance tools developed at the international level to the national level.
A review of the above-mentioned efforts suggests that a bottom-up direction of climate change communication efforts, and a minority-influence framework—in which minor advocacy and expert groups are supported by global policy norms and scientific knowledge in taking the issue to the national agenda—may be useful in understanding the dynamics taking place in industrializing countries such as Turkey.
Edson C. Tandoc Jr. and Nicholas Eng
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.
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 (i.e., 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 appear 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.
Lisa Zaval and James F. M. Cornwell
In recent years, scientists have identified cognitive processes that short-circuit our deliberative faculties. In the domain of climate change in particular, a number of psychological barriers and biases may disrupt typical discourse and reflection and may even prevent those who are aware of climate change from taking action to mitigate or reduce its impact. These processes include the use of heuristic versions of calculation-based decisions to reduce processing load, which can make climate change judgments responsive to situational factors in the immediate decision context. Recent research in the decision sciences provides insight into how common biases in judgment inhibit rational deliberation about climate change, which may lead to the gap between society’s recognition of environmental problems and society’s frequent failure to address them appropriately. These insights involve the finite nature of human attention and cognitive resources, the complex interactions of personal experience and emotion, the challenges that uncertainty and risk place on behavior, and the profoundly social nature of human action. Understanding these barriers and systematic biases have led to a set of potential interventions, which demonstrate how practitioners can put research insights into practice in order to address a variety of sustainability challenges. One important direction for these interventions involves changing the decision context in ways that account for decision bias (e.g., using green defaults) and triggering more adaptive decisions as a result.
Mikko Rask and Richard Worthington
The term public engagement (PE) refers to processes that provide a distinct role for citizens or stakeholder groups in policymaking. Such engagement is distinctive because it aims to create opportunities for mutual learning among policymakers, scientists, stakeholders, and members of the public. In so doing, PE involves a particular type of voice in public debate and policymaking that is different from more established discourses, such as those expressed through official policymaking channels, scientific institutions, civil society activists, or the public media. By the early 1970s, PE had emerged in the context of an overall democratization movement in Western societies through such innovations as the “citizen jury” in the United States and “planning cells” in Germany. Today, it is often more pragmatically motivated, such as in the European Commission, where PE is seen as a tool for responsible research and innovation that helps to anticipate and assess potential implications and societal expectations of research and innovation, as well as to design more inclusive and sustainable research policies.
The first global PE processes in history were created to incorporate citizen voices into United Nations (UN) conventions on biodiversity and climate change. Building on theories of deliberative democracy and tested PE practices, a new World Wide Views process was developed to provide informed and considered input from ordinary citizens to the 2009 UN climate summit. This and subsequent World Wide Views (WWViews) deliberations have demonstrated that PE may potentially open up policy discourses that are constricted and obfuscated by organized interests. A telling example is provided by the World Wide Views on Climate and Energy deliberation held on June 5, 2015, where nearly 10,000 ordinary citizens gathered in 76 countries to consider and express their views on the issues to be addressed at the UN climate summit in Paris later that year. In a noteworthy departure from prevailing media and policy discourses, two-thirds of the participating citizens saw measures to fight climate change as “mostly an opportunity to improve our quality of life,” while only a quarter saw them as “mostly a threat to our quality of life,” a result that was consistent across high-, middle-, and low-income countries.
Recent research on PE has indicated that when effectively implemented, such processes can increase the legitimacy, quality, and capacity of decision-making. Earlier aspirations for broader impacts, such as the democratization of policymaking at all levels, are now less prominent but arguably indispensable for achieving both immediate and longer-range goals. The relatively new concept of a deliberative system captures this complexity by moving beyond the narrow focus on single PE events encountered in much research to date, recognizing that single events rarely affect the course of policymaking. The evolving prospects for PE in biodiversity and climate change policy, therefore, can be seen as requiring ongoing improvements in the capacities of the deliberative system.
Michael A. Cacciatore
Biofuels are produced from biomass, which is any organic matter that can be burned or otherwise used to produce heat or energy. While not a new technology—biofuels have been around for well over 100 years—they are experiencing something of a renaissance in the United States and other countries across the globe. Today, biofuels have become the single most common alternative energy source in the U.S. transportation sector with billions of gallons of the fuel produced annually.
The expansion of the bio-based economy in recent years has been intertwined with mounting concerns about environmental pollution and the accumulation of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the earth’s atmosphere. In the United States, for example, biofuels mandates have been championed as key to solving not only the country’s increasing energy demand problems and reliance on foreign oil, but also growing fears about global climate change.
Of course, the use of biomass and biofuels to combat global climate change has been highly controversial. While proponents argue that biofuels burn cleaner than gasoline, research has suggested that any reductions in CO2 emissions are offset by land use considerations and the energy required in the biofuels-production process. How publics perceive of climate change as a problem and the use of biomass and biofuels as potential solutions will go a long way toward determining the policies that government’s implement to address this issue.
Carbon capture and storage (CCS) has emerged as a potential strategy for reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. It involves the capture of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from large point source emitters, such as coal-fired power plants. The CO2 is transported to a storage location, where it is isolated from the atmosphere in stable underground reservoirs. CCS technology has been particularly intriguing to countries that utilize fossil fuels for energy production and are seeking ways to reduce their GHG emissions. While there has been an increase in technological development and research in CCS, some members of the public, industry, and policymakers regard the technology as controversial. Some proponents see CCS as a climate change mitigation technology that will be essential to reducing CO2 emissions. Others view CCS as an environmentally risky, complex, and expensive technology that is resource-intensive, promotes the continued extraction of fossil fuels, and competes with renewable energy investments.
Effective communication about CCS begins with understanding the perceptions of the general public and individuals living in the communities where CCS projects are sited or proposed. Most people may never live near a CCS site, but may be concerned about risks, such as the cost of development, environmental impacts, and competition with renewable energy sources. Those who live near proposed or operational projects are likely to have a strong impact on the development and deployment of CCS. Individuals in locally affected communities may be more concerned about disruptions to sense of place, impact on jobs or economy, or effect on local health and environment. Effective communication about the risks and benefits of CCS has been recognized as a critical factor in the deployment of this technology.