In debates surrounding policy options for mitigating greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, economists of various political stripes are near unanimous in their advocacy of putting a price on carbon, whether through a tax or emissions trading program. Due to the visible costs imposed on industry and consumers, however, these policies have been resisted by carbon-intensive industries and by an ideologically divided public, producing incentives for vote-seeking politicians to avoid implementing comprehensive and stringent carbon prices within their own borders. In this highly politicized environment, and considering the more recent diffusion of market-based instruments across political jurisdictions around the world, researchers have sought to identify the conditions most favorable to implementing carbon taxes and cap-and-trade programs, the correlates of public support for these policies, and the extent to which different communication strategies may help build public support. How do experts, political leaders, and members of the public understand these policy instruments, and what specific approaches have been most successful in persuading policy makers and the public to support a price on carbon? In places that have yet to implement a carbon price, what can communication strategists learn from existing research and the experience of other jurisdictions where such policies have been successfully implemented? In places where carbon taxes or carbon cap-and-trade programs exist, how are the benefits of these policies best communicated to ensure the durability of carbon pricing policies over time?
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Climate Science. Please check back later for the full article.
The surge in unconventional oil and natural gas extraction by way of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) techniques—and the associated health, environmental, economic, and social impacts that have captured public interest—comes at a time of increased attention to the curtailment of fossil fuel use to address climate change. It is important to study public perception of unconventional energy development, as public support or opposition has important implications for research on climate change perception and communication.
Reviewing relevant research in this area reveals two overarching themes. First, many of the factors that shape public views on unconventional energy development also help influence climate change concern and awareness, including (a) psychological factors like political ideology; (b) characteristics of the information environment, including news media coverage; (c) characteristics of location, including proximity to areas of active development; and (d) moral and ethical considerations, including the geographic and temporal distribution of risks and benefits.
Second, efforts to highlight climate change as an energy development impact have increased in recent years. The extent to which natural gas (in particular) is considered a cleaner “bridge fuel” to a low-carbon future or a “dirty” fossil fuel that will hamper a transition to low-carbon energy sources will arguably serve as a valuable strategy for climate change engagement.
Andrew J. Hoffman
Within the corporate sector, climate change represents an unfolding market shift, one that is driven by policy but also by pressures from a variety of market constituents such as consumers, suppliers, buyers, insurance companies, banks, and others. The shift takes place in both mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions and adaptation to the physical effects of a changing climate. It is manifest in shifts in market demand, cost of capital, operational efficiency, energy efficiency, access to raw materials within supply chains, and other issues of business concern. In fact, when viewed in this way, business leaders and stakeholders can be agnostic about the science of climate change and still see it as a business issue. In the face of a market shift, successful companies must innovate. And as in any market shift, the implications of addressing climate change are not uniform; the burden will not fall evenly. There are both risks and opportunities; there will be both winners and losers. Certain companies, industries, and sectors will be impacted more than others. This article will discuss the ways in which climate change poses market risk and the strategic responses that companies might adopt to respond to and mitigate that risk. This focus is critically important as the solutions to climate change must come from the market. The market is the most powerful institution on earth, and business is the most powerful entity within it. The market compels business to make the goods and services we rely upon: the clothes we wear, the food we eat, the forms of mobility we use, and the buildings we live and work in. If the market does not lead the way toward solutions for a carbon-neutral world, there will be no solutions.
Mark Morrison, Donald W. Hine, and Steven D'Alessandro
Communication with farmers about climate change has proven to be difficult, with relatively low acceptance of anthropogenic climate change or the idea that climate change will negatively affect agriculture. Many farmers have been impervious to climate change communications because of the nature of farming, their worldviews, and the controversies about climate change in the media. Segmentation studies from the agriculture and natural resource management literatures provide evidence of homogeneous farmer groups internationally with respect to climate change attitudes and behaviors in a farming context. Understanding these segments—including their values, beliefs, and behaviors—is important for developing tailored and targeted communications approaches. Based on understanding of commonly observed farmer segments, it is possible to tailor communication strategies to better engage with segments of concern, including which message to use, appropriate sources, as well as alternative communication techniques based on participatory approaches and use of the arts. For certain segments, discussion about human-induced climate change should be avoided given that it is contentious and not critical for how farmers should respond to climate change. Theoretical frameworks from psychology and marketing—such as the theory of planned behavior, the attitude-to-behavior process model, the motivation and opportunity and determinants (MODE) model, motivation to avoid harm, and the elaboration likelihood model—can also be used to inform the design of communication strategies for engaging with farmers. However, a careful analysis of farmer segments, their worldviews, their beliefs, and their position in the consumer decision-making process suggests that the recommendations from these theoretical models should not be implemented uniformly across farmer segments. Rather, the various theoretical models provide a number of strategies that need to be selectively applied based on knowledge of the target segment. While use of theory and understanding of segments will help to improve communications with farmers, it is apparent that changing the beliefs of farmers in some segments about the need to respond to climate change will require more than simply increasing the quantity or quality of communications. Engaging farmers in these segments requires a much richer information set and a much greater effort to show farmers how they should be responding to climate variability and change using practical demonstrations and participatory approaches.
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.
Communicating about climate change with religious groups should recognize the diversity incorporated in the term “religion.” Diversity in practice, institutional forms, belief systems, values, and core narratives mean that climate communication cannot be formulaic application of communication techniques and social psychology tweaked for spirituality. Because all people see phenomena like climate change through the prisms of their existing ideas, values, influence of significant others, sociostructural position, and personal experience, and expect these to be respected, communication with religious groups should respect the particular religious tradition and draw on narratives and language that are meaningful to the particular faith. Emphasis is placed on the role of religion as a social space wherein people come together, form ideas, and act collectively. Social networks and established practice are likely to be as significant as the influence of a religious leader although such elite influence can also be important. Roman Catholic Pope Francis’ recent teaching document on the environment, Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home, serves as one example of communication about climate change. An understanding of the cultural assumptions, narratives, and framings relevant to a particular group is essential regardless of whether the people are secular or religious.
Eric Chu and Todd Schenk
Cities are important venues for climate change communication, where global rhetoric, national directives, local priorities, and media discourses interact to advance mitigation, adaptation, and resilience outcomes on the ground. Urban decision makers are often directly accountable to their electorates, responsible for the tasks most relevant to advancing concrete action on climate change, and flexible in pursuing various public engagement programs. However, many cities are designing climate policies without robust downscaled climate projections or clear capacity and support mechanisms. They are often constrained by fragmented governance arrangements, limited resources, and jurisdictional boundaries. Furthermore, policies often fall short in responding to the disparate needs of heterogeneous urban populations. Despite these constraints, cities across the global North and South are innovating with various communication tools to facilitate public awareness, political engagement, context-specific understanding, and action around climate change. These tools range from traditional popular media to innovative participatory processes that acknowledge the interests of different stakeholders, facilitate engagement across institutional boundaries, and address persistent scientific uncertainty through information coproduction and knowledge reflexivity. By selectively employing these tools, local governments and their partners are able to translate climate science into actionable mitigation, adaptation, and resilience plans; prioritize decision making while taking into account the multiscaled nature of urban infrastructures and service provisions; and design adaptable and flexible communication processes that are socially equitable and inclusive over the long term.
Emma Lundberg, Caroline Gottschalk Druschke, Bridie McGreavy, Sara Randall, Tyler Quiring, Alison Fisher, Francesca Soluri, Hannah Dallas, David Hart, and Kevin Gardner
As the global imperative for sustainable energy builds and with hydroelectricity proposed as one aspect of a sustainable energy profile, public discourse reflects the complex and competing discourses and social-ecological trade-offs surrounding hydropower and dams. Is hydropower “green”? Is it “sustainable”? Is it “renewable”? Does hydropower provide a necessary alternative to fossil fuel dependence? Can the ecological consequences of hydropower be mitigated? Is this the end of the hydropower era, or is it simply the beginning of a new chapter? These pressing questions circulate through discussions about hydropower in a time of changing climate, globally declining fisheries, and aging infrastructure, lending a sense of urgency to the many decisions to be made about the future of dams.
The United States and European Union (EU) saw an enduring trend of dam building from the Industrial Revolution through the mid-1970s. In these countries, contemporary media discussions about hydropower are largely focused on removing existing hydropower dams and retrofitting existing dams that offer hydropower potential. Outside of these contexts, increasing numbers of countries are debating the merits of building new large-scale hydropower dams that, in many developing countries, may have disproportionate impacts on indigenous communities that hold little political or economic power. As a result, news and social media attention to hydropower outside the United States/EU often focus on activist efforts to oppose hydropower and on its complex consequences for ecosystems and communities alike.
Despite hydropower’s wide range of ecological, economic, and social trade-offs, and the increasing urgency of global conversations about hydropower, relatively little work in communication studies explores news media, social media, or public debate in the context of hydropower and dam removal. In an effort to expand the scope of communication studies, after reviewing existing work the attention here shifts to research focused more broadly on human dimensions of hydropower. These dual bodies of work focus on small and large dams from Europe to the Americas to Asia and have applied a range of methods for analyzing media coverage of the hydropower debate. Those studies are reviewed here, with an emphasis on the key themes that emerge across studies—including trust, communication, local engagement, and a call to action for interdisciplinary approaches, intertwined with conflict, conflict resolution, and social and ecological resistance. The conclusion offers an original case brief that elucidates emerging themes from our ongoing research about hydropower and dam removal in the United States, and suggests future directions for research.
Shirley S. Ho
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.