D. B. Tindall, Mark C.J. Stoddart, and Candis Callison
This article considers the relationship between news media and the sociopolitical dimensions of climate change. Media can be seen as sites where various actors contend with one another for visibility, for power, and for the opportunity to communicate, as well as where they promote their policy preferences. In the context of climate change, actors include politicians, social movement representatives, scientists, business leaders, and celebrities—to name a few.
The general public obtain much of their information about climate change and other environmental issues from the media, either directly or indirectly through sources like social media. Media have their own internal logic, and getting one’s message into the media is not straightforward. A variety of factors influence what gets into the media, including media practices, and research shows that media matter in influencing public opinion.
A variety of media practices affect reporting on climate change─one example is the journalistic norm of balance, which directs that actors on both sides of a controversy be given relatively equal attention by media outlets. In the context of global warming and climate change, in the United States, this norm has led to the distortion of the public’s understanding of these processes. Researchers have found that, in the scientific literature, there is a very strong consensus among scientists that human-caused (anthropogenic) climate change is happening. Yet media in the United States often portray the issue as a heated debate between two equal sides.
Subscription to, and readership of, print newspapers have declined among the general public; nevertheless, particular newspapers continue to be important. Despite the decline of traditional media, politicians, academics, NGO leaders, business leaders, policymakers, and other opinion leaders continue to consume the media. Furthermore, articles from particular outlets have significant readership via new media access points, such as Facebook and Twitter.
An important concept in the communication literature is the notion of framing. “Frames” are the interpretive schemas individuals use to perceive, identify, and label events in the world. Social movements have been important actors in discourse about climate change policy and in mobilizing the public to pressure governments to act. Social movements play a particularly important role in framing issues and in influencing public opinion. In the United States, the climate change denial countermovement, which has strong links to conservative think tanks, has been particularly influential. This countermovement is much more influential in the United States than in other countries. The power of the movement has been a barrier to the federal government taking significant policy action on climate change in the United States and has had consequences for international agreements and processes.
Matthew A. Shapiro, Toby Bolsen, and Anna McCaghren Fleming
Public opinion plays a central role in determining the feasibility of efforts to transform energy systems in the coming years, yet scholarship on communication effects and public opinion about clean energy and energy efficiency seems to have expanded only relatively recently. There is a growing body of work that explores how targeted and strategically framed messages affect individuals’ beliefs and motivations to act on matters affecting household energy choices as well as energy policies. One must attend particularly to the principal communication-based factors that shape the public’s understanding of clean energy sources and promote efficiencies in energy use. To better understand the communication vehicles for improving both household energy efficiency and conservation, two research foci are most relevant: (1) field experiments that primarily assess how household energy consumption shifts after receiving energy consumption reports and (2) surveys/laboratory experiments that focus on the nuances of energy-related communications, paying particular attention to the role of politics and ideology. This bimodal classification of clean energy and efficiency communication research genres is not exhaustive but can be synthesized into two major contributions. First, providing households with information about specific benefits that would result from a greater reliance on clean energy may increase support for its development and move individuals toward energy efficiency outcomes; however, exposure to counter-messages that emphasize costs associated with clean energy and the associated policies can negate the effects of pro-clean energy messages. Second, there is still no reprieve from the politicization of energy, and thus the role of partisanship and motivated reasoning must be accounted for when assessing how individuals modify their decision-making processes regarding energy efficiency.
Emily H. Ho, David V. Budescu, and Han Hui Por
The overwhelming majority of the scientific community agrees that climate change (CC) is occurring and is caused by anthropogenic, or human-caused, forcing. The global populace is aware of this phenomenon but appears to be unconcerned about CC and is slow to adopt potential mitigative actions. CC is a unique and complex phenomenon affected by various kinds of uncertainty, rendering communicative efforts particularly challenging. The compound and, potentially, conflicting uncertainties inherent in CC engender public ambivalence about the issue. The treatment of uncertainty in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC’s) reports have been shown to be confusing to policymakers and the general public, further confounding public outreach efforts. Given diverse communication styles and the multifaceted nature of CC, an assortment of strategies has been recommended to maximize understanding and increase salience. In particular, using evidence-based approaches to communicate about probabilistic outcomes in CC increases communicative efficiency.
Images are a key part of the climate change communication process. The diverse and interdisciplinary literature on how people engage with visual representations of climate change is reviewed. Images hold particular power for engaging people, as they hold three qualities that differ from other communication devices (such as words or text): they are analogical, they lack an explicit propositional syntax, and they are indexical. These qualities are explored in relation to climate change imagery. A number of visual tropes common to climate change communication (identifiable people; climate change impacts; energy, emissions and pollution; protest; scientific imagery) are examined and the evidence for each of these visual tropes in terms of how they engage particular audiences is reviewed. Two case studies, of polar bear imagery and the “hockey stick” graph image, critically examine iconic imagery associated with climate change, and how and why these types of images may (dis)engage audiences. Six best-practice guidelines for visual climate change communication are presented and three areas for further research in this nascent field are suggested.
Environmental organizations have been critically important in publicizing and supplying arguments about climate change, just as with the other environmental issues facing contemporary societies. In their campaigns and activism, environmental groups need to be able to make influential and widely circulated claims about the state of the natural world or the ecological impact of human activities. To do this, they have to “manage” their relationship to science. Environmentalists (in contrast to many other campaigners) are obliged to be science communicators because the convincingness of their message depends on the underlying presumption that their claims have a basis in factual, scientific accuracy.
Facing the science and communication challenges of climate change, environmentalists have often found their role to be an unusual one. Unlike in most other ecological campaign areas, they have been committed to defending or bolstering mainstream scientific opinion about the nature and causes of climate change. Nonetheless, they have sought ways of distancing themselves from some of the policy and technological options apparently favored by leading scientific figures. And they have pioneered approaches based more on long-term investment strategies and normative values which, to some degree, allow them to sidestep difficulties associated with the adoption of a subordinate role in the science communication arena.
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.
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.
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?
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.
Climate change communication is a relatively new area of research in India—a country that ranks high in vulnerability due to poverty, yet a major emitter of greenhouse gases (GHGs). This article reviews climate change communication research in the country from the 1990s to the present. First, it provides a political economy framework to explore the issue of climate change communication amid environment and development debates in India. It shows that elite discourses of climate change have been shifting from externalizing the problem and solutions to a more recent co-benefits approach to address the twin challenges of climate change and economic development. Second, the article reviews research about media coverage and finds that although Indian media portrays climate change as real and human-caused and reports its severe impacts in India, it largely externalizes the problem, with slight changes in recent coverage highlighting domestic responsibility and equity. Third, reviewing studies on public awareness and understanding, it shows that while the Indian public is largely unaware of the term climate change, public opinion surveys and qualitative research indicate that Indians report experiencing changing weather conditions in their local area—an important lesson to communicating climate change in India. Finally, it explores future opportunities for climate change communication research in India.