Climate change specifically and the environment more generally are becoming increasingly central features in much of contemporary persuasive messages. From World Wildlife Fund public service announcements showing the Earth as a melting scoop of ice cream to advertisements for environmentally friendly hybrid cars set against backdrops of lush, green fields, climate change and the environment are closely linked to strategic communication and consumer behavior. This growing focus on the connection between climate change and consumption represents a wide and varied field of study, underscoring the ways in which the two can at once be symbiotic and yet also antagonistic.
Meaningful academic attention to environmental cues in advertising can be thought of as occurring in two waves. In the first wave, peaking in the 1990s, research was concerned primarily with content analyses of advertising containing environmental appeals. Questions about deceptive environmental claims, often referred to as greenwashing, were a primary concern during this phase. Climate change specifically was not a central element, and instead, issues of environmental preservation and conservation dominated. In the second wave, which emerged in the late 2000s and continues unabated, researchers have broadened their focus to examine not only how the environment was depicted in advertising messages but also how audiences understood them. Attention was paid to message factors, like framing, source cues, and visual depictions, as well as individual-level factors, such as environmental concern, political ideology and regulatory focus.
While concerns about greenwashing and deceptive advertising continue to plague green advertising, a collection of new critiques has emerged, including questions about the implications of emphasizing consumer behavior as a source of climate change mitigation, of relying on nature as a commodity to be sold and used, and of engaging individuals as consumers rather than as citizens in attempts to effect environmental change.
Nathaniel Geiger, Brianna Middlewood, and Janet Swim
Given the severity of the threat posed by climate change, why is large-scale societal action to decarbonize our energy systems not more widespread? The present article examines four categories of psychological barriers to accurate risk perceptions and engagement with this topic by the public. First, psychological barriers such as (a) not personally experiencing the threat, (b) not hearing people talk about climate change, (c) being limited by cultural narratives, and (d) not understanding how climate change works can lead to misperception of the threat posed by climate change. Second, individuals may lack knowledge or perceived ability about how to address the threat. Third, social barriers such as social norms not to act and socio-structural barriers can discourage climate change engagement. Finally, worldviews such as neoliberal ideology and conspiratorial worldviews can conflict with climate change engagement.
Jaime Gilden and Ellen Peters
It is a widely accepted scientific fact that our climate is changing and that this change is caused by human activity. Despite the scientific consensus, many individuals in the United States fail to grasp the extent of the consensus and continue to deny both the existence and cause of climate change; the proportion of the population holding these beliefs has been stable in recent history. Most of the American public also believe they know a lot about climate change although knowledge tests do not always reflect their positive perceptions. There are two frequent hypotheses about public knowledge and climate change beliefs: (a) providing the public with more climate science information, thus making them more knowledgeable, will bring the beliefs of the public closer to those of climate scientists and (b) individuals with greater cognitive ability (e.g., scientific literacy or numeracy) will have climate change beliefs more like those of experts. However, data do not always support this proposed link between knowledge, ability, and beliefs. A better predictor of beliefs in the United States is political identity. For example, compared to liberals, conservatives consistently perceive less risk from climate change and, perhaps as a result, are less likely to hold scientifically accurate climate change beliefs, regardless of their cognitive abilities. And greater knowledge and ability, rather than being related to more accurate climate change beliefs, tend to relate to increased polarization across political identities, such that the difference in beliefs between conservatives and liberals with high cognitive ability is greater than the difference in beliefs between conservatives and liberals with low cognitive ability.
People can take extraordinary measures to protect that which they view as sacred. They may refuse financial gain, engage in bloody, inter-generational conflicts, mount hunger strikes and even sacrifice their lives. These behaviors have led researchers to propose that religious values shape our identities and give purpose to our lives in a way that secular incentives cannot. However, despite the fact that many cultural and religious frameworks already emphasize sacred aspects of our natural world, applying all of that motivating power of “the sacred” to environmental protectionism seems to be less straightforward.
Sacred elements in nature do lead people to become committed to environmental causes, particularly when religious identities emphasize conceptualization of humans as caretakers of this planet. In other cases, however, it is precisely the sacred aspect of nature which precludes environmental action and leads to the denial of climate change. This denial can take many forms, from an outright refusal of the premise of climate change to a divine confirmation of eschatological beliefs.
A resolution might require rethinking the framework that religion provides in shaping human-environment interactions. Functionalist perspectives emphasize religion’s ability to help people cope with loss—of life, property and health, which will become more frequent as storms intensify and weather patterns become more unpredictable. It is uncertain whether religious identity can facilitate the acceptance of anthropogenic climate change, but perhaps it can aid with how people adapt to its inevitable effects.
Research Methods for Assessing Journalistic Decisions, Advocacy Strategies, and Communication Practices Related to Climate Change
Research in the field of journalistic decisions, advocacy strategies, and communication practices is very heterogeneous, comprising diverse groups of actors and research questions. Not surprisingly, various methods have been applied to assess actors’ motives, strategies, intentions, and communication behaviors. This article provides an overview of the most common methods applied—i.e., qualitative and quantitative approaches to textual analyses, interviewing techniques, observational and experimental research. After discussing the major strengths and weaknesses of each method, an outlook on future research is given. One challenge of the future study of climate change communication will be to account for its dynamics, with various actors reacting to one another in their public communication. To better approximate such dynamics in the future, more longitudinal research will be needed.
Research Methods for Assessing Online Climate Change Communication, Social Media Discussion, and Behavior
Leona Yi-Fan Su, Heather Akin, and Dominique Brossard
In recent years, increased Internet access and new communication technologies have led to the development of online methods for gathering public opinion and behavioral data related to controversial issues like climate change. To help climate-change researchers better adapt to the new era of online-based research, a review of, and methodological applications for, prevailing Internet-based research methods are provided here. Online surveys have become more common in the last decade for several reasons, including their relatively low administration cost, the pervasiveness of Internet communication, and declining response rates associated with traditional survey methods. Experiments embedded within online surveys have also become a useful tool for examining the extent to which online communications influence publics’ attitudes and behaviors. Other research methods that have gained growing attention from scholars are content analyses of online communication using big data approaches. By mining the seemingly infinite amount of user-generated content extracted from different social media sites, researchers are able to analyze issue awareness, responses to instant news, and emerging sentiments. This article provides a detailed overview of these Internet-based research methods, including their potential advantages and pitfalls, their applications in the science-communication and climate-change research fields, as well as suggestions for future research.
Scientists’ Views about Public Engagement and Science Communication in the Context of Climate Change
John Besley and Anthony Dudo
Scientists who study issues such as climate change are often called on by both their colleagues and broader society to share what they know and why it matters. Many are willing to do so—and do it well—but others are either unwilling or may communicate without clear goals or in ways that may fail to achieve their goals. There are several central topics involved in the study of scientists as communicators. First, it is important to understand the evolving arguments behind why scientists are being called on to get involved in public engagement about contentious issues such as climate change. Second, it is also useful to consider the factors that social science suggests actually lead scientists to communicate about scientific issues. Last, it is important to consider what scientists are trying to achieve through their communication activities, and to consider to what extent we have evidence about whether scientists are achieving their desired goals.
Daniel P. Aldrich, Courtney Page, and Christopher J. Paul
Anthropogenic climate change increasingly disrupts livelihoods, floods coastal urban cities and island nations, and exacerbates extreme weather events. There is near-universal consensus among scientists that in order to reverse or at least mitigate climate disruptions, limits must be imposed on anthropogenic sources of climate-forcing emissions and adaptation to changing global conditions will be necessary. Yet adaptation to current and future climate change at the individual, community, and national levels vary widely from merely coping, to engaging in adaptive change, to transformative shifts. Some of those affected simply cope with lower crop yields, flooded streets, and higher cooling bills. Others incrementally adapt to new environmental conditions, for example, by raising seawalls or shifting from one crop to another better suited for a hotter environment. The highest—and perhaps least likely—type of change involves transformation, radically altering practices with an eye toward the future. Transformative adaptation may involve a livelihood change or permanent migration; it might require shuttering whole industries and rethinking industrial policy at the national level. Entire island nations such as Fiji, for example, are considering relocating from vulnerable locations to areas better suited to rising sea levels.
A great deal of research has shown how social capital (the bonding, bridging, and linking connections to others) provides information on trustworthiness, facilitates collective action, and connects us to external resources during disasters and crises. We know far less about the relationship between social capital and adaptation behaviors in terms of the choices that people make to accommodate changing environmental conditions. A number of unanswered but critical questions remain: How precisely does social capital function in climate change adaptation? To what degree does strong bonding social capital substitute for successful adaptation behaviors for individuals or groups? Which combinations of social factors make coping, adapting, and transforming most likely? How can social capital help migrating populations maintain cultural identity under stress? How can local networks be integrated into higher-level policy interventions to improve adaptation? Which political and social networks contribute to transformative responses to climate change at local, regional, and international levels? This article serves as a comprehensive literature review, overview of empirical findings to date, and a research agenda for the future.
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.
Climate change is often said to herald the anthropocene, where humans become active participants in the remaking of global geology. The corollary of the wide acceptance of a geological anthropocene is the emergence of a new form of self-aware climate agency. With awareness comes blame, invoking responsibility for action. What kind of social action arises from climate agency has become the critical question of our era. In the context of climate deterioration, the prevalence of inaction is itself an exercise of agency, creating in its path new fields of social struggle. The opening sphere of climate agency has the effect of subsuming other fields, reconfiguring established categories of human justice and ethical well-being. In this respect we can think of climate agency as having a distinctive, even revolutionary logic, which remains emergent, enveloping multiple aspects of social action.
From this perspective the question of climate change and social movement participation is centrally important. To what extent is something that we can characterize as “climate agency” emerging through social movement participation? What potential has this phenomenon to develop beyond ideological confinement and delimitation to make wider and transformative claims on society? A genuine social movement, we are taught from history, is indeed a transformative force capable of remaking social and political relations. It remains unclear, but what are the emergent dynamics of climate movement participation that depart from established systemic parameters, to offer such a challenge? How are such developments reconfiguring “climate change communication,” forcing an insurgent element into the polity?
Though scholarship addressing these questions on social movement participation and climate change exists, the field undoubtedly remains relatively underdeveloped. This reflects the extent to which inquiry into climate change has been dominated by scientific and economic discourses. It also reflects the difficulty that social science, and specifically political sociology, the “home” of social movement studies, has had in apprehending the scope of the challenge. Climate change can disrupt deeply sedimented assumptions about the relationship between social movements and capitalist modernity, and force a reconsideration of the role of social movements across developmentalist hierarchies. Such rethinking can be theoretically challenging, and force new approaches into view. These possibilities reflect the broader challenges to political culture posed by climate change.