Jonathon P. Schuldt
Communicating about climate change involves more than choices about which content to convey and how to convey it. It also involves a choice about how to label the issue itself, given the various terms used to represent the issue in public discourse—including “global warming,” “climate change,” and “global environmental change,” among others. An emerging literature in climate change communication and survey methodology has begun to examine the influence of labeling on public perceptions, including the cognitive accessibility of climate-related knowledge, affective responses and related judgments (problem seriousness and personal concern), and certainty that the phenomenon exists. The present article reviews this emerging work, drawing on framing theory and related social-cognitive models of information processing to shed light on the possible mechanisms that underlie labeling effects. In doing so, the article highlights the value of distinguishing between labeling and framing effects in communication research and theory, and calls for additional research into the boundary conditions of these and other labeling effects in science communication.
Some of the major misconceptions in the United States about climate change—such as the focus on scientific uncertainty, the “debate” over whether climate change is caused by humans, and pushback about how severe the consequences might be—can be seen as communications battles. An interesting area within communications is the contrasting use of guilt and shame for climate-related issues. Guilt and shame are social emotions (along with embarrassment, pride, and others), but guilt and shame are also distinct tools. On the one hand, guilt regulates personal behavior, and because it requires a conscience, guilt can be used only against individuals. Shame, on the other hand, can be used against both individuals and groups by calling their behavior out to an audience. Shaming allows citizens to express criticism and social sanctions, attempting to change behavior through social pressure, often because the formal legal system is not holding transgressors accountable. Through the use of guilt and shame we can see manifestations of how we perceive the problem of climate change and who is responsible for it. For instance, in October 2008, Chevron, one of the world’s largest fossil fuel companies, placed advertisements around Washington, DC, public transit stops featuring wholesome-looking, human faces with captions such as “I will unplug things more,” “I will use less energy,” and “I will take my golf clubs out of the trunk.” Six months later, DC activists reworked the slogans by adding to each the phrase “while Chevron pollutes.” This case of corporate advertising and subsequent “adbusting” illustrates the contrast between guilt and shame in climate change communication. Guilt has tended to align with the individualization of responsibility for climate change and has been primarily deployed over issues of climate-related consumption rather than other forms of behavior, such as failure to engage politically. Shame has been used, largely by civil society groups, as a primary tactic against fossil fuel producers, peddlers of climate denial, and industry-backed politicians.
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 persuasive industries of advertising and public relations are inextricably intertwined with the cultures of the industrial revolution and neoliberal market economics—the very forces that are primarily responsible for bringing us to a warming world. Is it possible they can evolve from being part of the problem to forming part of the solution? Historically, advertising and public relations professionals operate in the service of paying clients. There are a number of governmental and non-governmental entities promoting carbon reduction and other climate change mitigation and adaptation policy positions and individual behaviors. Although significant, the “share of voice” for these communication campaigns remains negligible in the context of hyper-mediated modern social life. It is unrealistic, therefore, to expect that the advertising and public relations industries could have a significant impact on climate change attitudes, beliefs, knowledge, and behaviors by directing their collective creative energies and resources to traditional public information campaigns. Reflecting on the nature and operation of these persuasive industries, however, it may be possible for the advertising and public relations industries to have significant—and perhaps critical—indirect impacts. Many science and policy communicators think in terms of informational message strategies. However, as the history of advertising and public relations has shown, persuasion happens in more emotional and indirect ways. In rhetorical terms, the most persuasive messages often communicate through enthymemes—non-explicit or unstated assumptions and conclusions that audiences accept as “given” and without scrutiny or counter-arguing. This reality provides an opening for strategic communicators to contribute to pro-science public attitudes in the service of all clients. With close and transparent consideration of the ethical implications, the indirect client of strategic communications can be client earth.
Pieter Maeseele and Yves Pepermans
The idea of climate change inspires and reinforces disagreements at all levels of society. Climate change’s integration into public life suggests that there is no evident way of framing and tackling the phenomenon. This brings forward important questions regarding the role of ideology in mediated public discourse on climate change. The existing research literature shows that five ideological filters need to be taken into account to understand the myriad ways in which ideology plays a role in the production, representation, and reception of climate change in (news and entertainment) media: (i) economic factors, (ii) journalistic norms, (iii) political context, (iv) ideological cultures, and (v) citizen decoding. Furthermore, two different interpretations of how ideology precisely serves as a filter of social reality underlie this literature: an interpretation of ideology as an independent variable, on the one hand, and as a constitutive practice, on the other. Moreover, these interpretations underlie a broader discussion in the social sciences on the relation between climate change and ideology and how scholars and activists should deal with it. By considering climate change as a post-ideological issue, a first perspective problematizes the politicization of climate change and calls for its depoliticization to foster consensus and public engagement. In response, a second perspective takes aim against the post-politicization and post-democratization of climate change (resulting from the adoption of the first perspective) for suppressing the role of ideology and, as a result, for stifling democratic debate and citizenship with regard to the climate issue. This latter perspective is in need of further exploration in future research, especially with regard to the concepts of ideological fault lines, ideological hegemony, and ideological strategies.
Among the factors that influence news decisions relative to climate change, journalistic background, professional norms, and culture are particularly important. There is empirical evidence that conservative journalists and media outlets are less likely to support the scientific consensus on climate change and more likely to promote climate change contrarianism.
Journalists with less expertise on climate change may produce less accurate coverage, investigative journalists may be more critical towards science, and journalists with a positive attitude towards the subject of climate change may make it more salient in the news.
There is also indication that climate journalists abandon the norm of balance and increasingly employ strategies of novelty, dramatization, personalization, and localization. The climate journalists also tend to synchronize their coverage to the policies of their governments.
Finally, journalists from the interpretive community around the IPCC or from science-friendly cultures are more likely to support the consensus on climate change, while journalists from collectivist cultures are more likely to endorse binding international agreements.
Candice Howarth and Amelia Sharman
Labels play an important role in opinion formation, helping to actively construct perceptions and reality, and to place individuals into context with others. As a highly complex issue, climate change invites a range of different opinions and dialogues about its causes, impacts, and action required. Much work has been published in the academic literature aiming to categorize differences of opinion about climate change using labels. However, the debate about labels acts as a distraction to more fundamental and pressing issues of policy response. In addition, the undercurrent of incivility present in the climate change debate also contributes towards a hostile and unconstructive conflict.
This is an evolving area of academic enquiry. Recent work has examined how the different labels of climate change opinions are constructed, used in practice, and portrayed differently in the public and policy spheres. The growing number of categorization systems used in the climate debate are also argued to have implications for the science-policy interface, creating a polarized debate involving many different actors and interfaces.
Moving away from unhelpful use and construction of labels that lead to incivility would enable constructive and fruitful dialogue across this polarized debate. A way forward would be to explore further the role of underlying motivations and rationales as to why these different opinions about climate change come to exist in the first place. Focusing on potential overlaps in perceptions and rationales may encourage constructive discussion amongst actors previously engaged in purposefully antagonistic exchange on climate change.
Many publics remain divided about the existence and consequences of anthropogenic climate change despite scientific consensus. A popular approach to climate change communication, and science communication more generally, is the information deficit model. The deficit model assumes that gaps between scientists and the public are a result of a lack of information or knowledge. As a remedy for this gap, the deficit model is a one-way communication model where information flows from experts to publics in an effort to change individuals’ attitudes, beliefs, or behaviors. Approaches to climate change communication that reflect the deficit model include websites, social media, mobile applications, news media, documentaries and films, books, and scientific publications and technical reports. The deficit model has been highly criticized for being overly simplistic and inaccurately characterizing the relationship between knowledge, attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors, particularly for politically polarized issues like climate change. Even so, it continues to be an integral part of climate change communication research and practice. In an effort to address the inadequacies of the deficit model, scholars and practitioners often utilize alternative forms of public engagement, including the contextual model, the public engagement model, and the lay expertise model. Each approach to public engagement carries with it a unique set of opportunities and challenges. Future work in climate change communication should explore when and how to most effectively use the models of public engagement that are available.
Luis E. Hestres and Jill E. Hopke
The past two decades have transformed how interest groups, social movement organizations, and individuals engage in collective action. Meanwhile, the climate change advocacy landscape, previously dominated by well-established environmental organizations, now accommodates new ones focused exclusively on this issue. What binds these closely related trends is the rapid diffusion of communication technologies like the internet and portable devices such as smartphones and tablets. Before the diffusion of digital and mobile technologies, collective action, whether channeled through interest groups or social movement organizations, consisted of amassing and expending resources—money, staff, time, etc.—on behalf of a cause via top-down organizations. These resource expenditures often took the form of elite persuasion: media outreach, policy and scientific expertise, legal action, and lobbying.
But broad diffusion of digital technologies has enabled alternatives to this model to flourish. In some cases, digital communication technologies have simply made the collective action process faster and more cost-effective for organizations; in other cases, these same technologies now allow individuals to eschew traditional advocacy groups and instead rely on digital platforms to self-organize. New political organizations have also emerged whose scope and influence would not be possible without digital technologies. Journalism has also felt the impact of technological diffusion. Within networked environments, digital news platforms are reconfiguring traditional news production, giving rise to new paradigms of journalism. At the same time, climate change and related issues are increasingly becoming the backdrop to news stories on topics as varied as politics and international relations, science and the environment, economics and inequality, and popular culture.
Digital communication technologies have significantly reduced the barriers for collective action—a trend that in many cases has meant a reduced role for traditional brick-and-mortar advocacy organizations and their preferred strategies. This trend is already changing the types of advocacy efforts that reach decision-makers, which may help determine the policies that they are willing to consider and adopt on a range of issues—including climate change. In short, widespread adoption of digital media has fueled broad changes in both collective action and climate change advocacy. Examples of advocacy organizations and campaigns that embody this trend include 350.org, the Climate Reality Project, and the Guardian’s “Keep It in the Ground” campaign. 350.org was co-founded in 2007 by environmentalist and author Bill McKibben and several of his former students from Middlebury College in Vermont. The Climate Reality project was founded under another name by former U.S. Vice President and Nobel Prize winner Al Gore. The Guardian’s “Keep It in the Ground” fossil fuel divestment campaign, which is a partnership with 350.org and its Go Fossil Free Campaign, was launched in March 2015 at the behest of outgoing editor-in-chief Alan Rusbridger.
Media research has historically concentrated on the many uncertainties in climate science either as a dominant discourse in media treatments measured by various forms of quantitative and qualitative content analysis or as the presence of skepticism, in its various manifestations, in political discourse and media coverage. More research is needed to assess the drivers of such skepticism in the media, the changing nature of skeptical discourse in some countries, and important country differences as to the prevalence of skepticism in political debate and media coverage. For example, why are challenges to mainstream climate science common in some Anglophone countries such as the United Kingdom, the United States, and Australia but not in other Western nations? As the revolution in news consumption via new players and platforms causes an increasingly fragmented media landscape, there are significant gaps in understanding where, why, and how skepticism appears. In particular, we do not know enough about the ways new media players depict the uncertainties around climate science and how this may differ from previous coverage in traditional and mainstream news media. We also do not know how their emphasis on visual content affects audience understanding of climate change.
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.