Prevalence & Rationale for Presenting Opposing Viewpoint in Climate Change Reporting

Findings from a United States national survey of TV weathercasters

by K.M. Timm, E.W. Maibach, M. Boykoff, T.A. Myers, and M.A. Broeckelman-Post, Weather, Climate, and Society (2019) doi: 10.1175/WCAS-D-19-0063.1

Abstract: The journalistic norm of balance bas been described as the practice of giving equal weight to different sides of a story; false balance is balanced reporting when the weight of evidence strongly favors one side over others—for example, the reality of human-caused climate change. False balance is problematic because it skews public perception of expert agreement. Through formative interviews and a survey of American weathercasters about climate change reporting, we found that objectivity and balance—topics that have frequently been studied with environmental journalists—are also relevant to understanding climate change reporting among weathercasters. Questions about the practice of and reasons for presenting an opposing viewpoint when reporting on climate change were included in a 2017 census survey of weathercasters working in the United States (N=480; response rate=22%). When reporting on climate change, 35% of weathercasters present an opposing viewpoint ‘always’ or ‘most of the time.’ Their rationale for reporting opposing viewpoints included the journalistic norms of objectivity and balanced reporting (53%), their perceived uncertainty of climate science (21%), to acknowledge differences of opinion (17%), to maintain credibility (14%), and to strengthen the story (7%). These findings show that climate change reporting from weathercasters sometimes includes opposing viewpoints, and possibly a false balance, but further research is necessary. Moreover, prior research has shown that the climate reporting practices among weathercasters are evolving rapidly and so the problem of false balance reporting may already be self-correcting. Read more …

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MeCCO Monthly Summary: The New Normal

Media and Climate Change Observatory (MeCCO)
October 2019 Summary

October media attention to climate change and global warming went down 8% from record levels of coverage in September 2019. However, it was still up 48% throughout the world from October 2018. While Middle East and North America coverage was up 10% and 7% respectively from the previous month, it was down in all other regions. At the country level, coverage also dropped from high levels in September in all countries we monitor, with the exception of increases in three countries: the United Kingdom (+8%), New Zealand (+5%) and Canada (+49%).

In particular, New Zealand’s record September 2019 coverage followed by continued 5% increase in October 2019 showed sustained media discussions of climate change and global warming.

Figure 1. Number of news stories per day per outlet in October 2019 across the New Zealand newspapers The New Zealand HeraldThe DominionPost, and The Press.

In October 2019, Canadian coverage of climate change indeed went up 49% from the previous month of September 2019. Canadian coverage also reached record levels, and this was largely attributed to the role that climate change played in the October 21 General Election for Prime Minister (see Figure 2). For example, journalist Chris Turner reporting for the Globe & Mail noted, “Climate change has never before played as central a role in a Canadian federal election as it did this year, and Mr. Trudeau ran hard on his record as the only leader offering both credible action on climate change and continued support for Canada’s oil and gas sector. The Liberals were, as Mr. Trudeau once put it, the only ones who saw both pipelines and wind turbines in Canada’s energy future. This was Mr. Trudeau’s grand climate bargain – better market access for oil and gas in a sort of trade for consensus on a workable path to a low-carbon economy – and Canadians have given him a shot at seeing that bargain through. I’d argue his legacy as a Prime Minister will ultimately rest on whether he can deliver on it. Mr. Trudeau’s reference to a referendum on the next 40 years was not self-aggrandizing on the climate front”. Meanwhile, over at The Toronto Star journalists Peter Lowen and Michael Bernstein reported after the election that “voters who turned away from the federal Conservatives were overwhelmingly concerned about climate change. Of the voters who did not vote for Scheer’s Conservatives, 20 per cent said they would have considered supporting the party. Among this Conservative-friendly pool of available voters, 77 per cent said climate change was among their top voting issues. Those same voters were unimpressed with the Conservative platform on climate change, giving it an average grade of D. What those results tell us is that the Conservatives left thousands of votes on the table, especially in battleground regions like Toronto and the 905 belt around Canada’s largest city. Had those people switched their vote to the Conservatives, we might be looking at a very different government today. If Conservatives are going to win elections in the future, they will need to advance a more credible plan on climate change — and that begins with not only accepting, but embracing, the reality of the carbon tax and rebate”.

Figure 2. Number of news stories per day per outlet in October 2019 across the Canadian newspapers Globe & MailThe Toronto Star and The National Post.

Figure 3 shows trends in newspaper media coverage at the global scale – organized into seven geographical regions around the world – from January 2004 through October 2019.

This month, we integrate 17 new sources across 14 countries: five new sources in Asia, 11 new sources in Africa and 1 new source in the Middle East. These are:

  • The Malaysian Reserve (Malaysia), Today (Singapore), The Daily Mirror (Sri Lanka), The Daily News (Sri Lanka) and The New Nation (Bangladesh) in Asia;
  • Daily Trust (Nigeria), Vanguard (Nigeria), The New Times (Rwanda), Daily Nation (Kenya), The Times of Zambia (Zambia), New Era Namibia (Namibia), The Citizen (Tanzania), Pa Potentiel (Congo), L’Observateur Paalga (Burkina Faso), La Nouvelle Tribune (Morocco) and Sud Quotidien (Senegal) in Africa;
  • Dawn (Pakistan) in the Middle East.

This work increases our explanatory power regarding print media coverage of climate change in these regions now with 23 sources in Asia, 15 sources in Africa and 6 sources in the Middle East along with 20 sources in North America, 13 sources in Latin America, 8 sources in Oceania and 28 sources in Europe. This brings the number of print sources that our Media and Climate Change Observatory (MeCCO) monitor up to 100 sources across 54 countries. Including television and radio with newspaper sources, we at MeCCO now monitor 113 sources total across 55 countries. (For more details about each source, visit our ‘Source Fact Sheet’ page on the MeCCO website.

This month, further political and economic connections with climate issues dominated media coverage around the world. For example, October began with discussions emanating from an International Monetary Fund (IMF) about putting a price on carbon. The IMF proposed that funds gathered through the pricing scheme would be dedicated to offset increases in energy prices. The report also posited that implementation of a $75 per ton tax on carbon by 2030 could keep warming to 2 degrees C. The IMF prognosticated that it would also lead to approximately 30% greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reductions in the United States (US) and up to 45% GHG emissions reductions in China, India and other developing nations. This set of IMF pronouncements signaled further acceptance of carbon pricing in business and finance communities as a tool to effectively combat climate change.

Consequently, this report generated substantial media attention. For example, CNBC reporter Emma Newburger reported, “Increasing the price of carbon is the most efficient and powerful method of combating global warming and reducing air pollution, according to a new report from the International Monetary Fund. While the idea of carbon taxes on fossil fuel corporations has been spreading across the globe in the past couple decades, increasing prices on carbon emissions has received widespread backlash from those who argue the tax would raise energy bills. But economists have long contended that raising the cost of burning fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas is the best way to mitigate climate change, and that revenue raised from the tax can be returned to consumers through rebates and dividends”.

Meanwhile, Washington Post journalists Chris Mooney and Andrew Freedman wrote, “A global agreement to make fossil fuel burning more expensive is urgent and the most efficient way of fighting climate change, an International Monetary Fund study found on Thursday. The group found that a global tax of $75 per ton by the year 2030 could limit the planet’s warming to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), or roughly double what it is now. That would greatly increase the price of fossil-fuel-based energy — especially from the burning of coal — but the economic disruption could be offset by routing the money raised straight back to citizens … The IMF report comes out as financial institutions increasingly grapple with the risks associated with climate change, including damage from sea-level rise, extreme weather events and billions in fossil fuel reserves that might be in excess of what can be burned while also limiting warming. The Federal Reserve, for example, is taking a closer look at how climate change may pose a risk to economic stability. In the United States, a $75 tax would cut emissions by nearly 30 percent but would cause on average a 53 percent increase in electricity costs and a 20 percent rise for gasoline at projected 2030 prices, the analysis in the IMF’s Fiscal Monitor found. But it would also generate revenue equivalent to 1 percent of gross domestic product, an enormous amount of money that could be redistributed and, if spread equally, would end up being a fiscally progressive policy, rather than one disproportionately targeting the poor. The impact of a $75-per-ton tax would also hit countries differently depending on burning or exporting coal, which produces the most carbon emissions per unit of energy generated when it is burned. In developing nations such as China, India and South Africa, a $75 carbon tax reduces emissions even more — by as much as 45 percent — and generates proportionately more revenue, as high as 3.5 percent of GDP in South Africa’s case, the IMF found”.

In later October, the political and economic met the legal as a set of court cases and congressional hearings involving ExxonMobil and climate change captured media attention. The events that captured media coverage took place in New York, Boston and in Washington D.C. In New York, ExxonMobil defended itself against claims that it misled investors about the risks of climate change for oil and gas explorations, drilling, distribution and sales. In Boston, ExxonMobil faced a suit that was broader in scope that included misleading investors and consumers through false advertising. In Washington D.C., two hearings – one through the House Oversight Committee and a second through the Senate Democrats’ Special Committee on the Climate Crisis – also examined these movements of ExxonMobil. In addition, these hearings more broadly discussed the role of ‘Dark Money’ (covert contributions made from fossil fuel industry groups to organizations that sought to slow or stop climate policy action) and disinformation in contemporary US climate politics.

Media coverage of these hearings abounded, particularly in US and UK sources. For an example of coverage surrounding the New York State court case, Wall Street Journal journalist Corinne Ramey penned a story entitled ‘Exxon Misled Investors Over Climate Change, Court Told’. She reported, “To illustrate how Exxon Mobil Corp. allegedly deceived investors about its climate-change accounting, a lawyer from the New York attorney general’s office showed a packed Manhattan courtroom Tuesday a multicolored world map the company presented to shareholders. In red were countries including the U.S. and Canada where Exxon said it was planning for tougher climate-change regulation, showing the number the company used to calculate the higher cost”. For an example of coverage of US House hearings regarding ExxonMobil, disinformation and climate change, US-based Guardian journalist Emily Holden authored an article entitled, ‘Exxon sowed doubt about climate crisis, House Democrats hear in testimony’. She began the article by writing that the House Oversight “Subcommittee laid out four decades of evidence just a day after oil behemoth began a trial over misleading investors”. She continued, “House Democrats on Wednesday laid out four decades of evidence that oil behemoth Exxon knew since the 1970s that the burning of fossil fuels was heating the planet and intentionally sowed doubt about the climate crisis. The testimony came in a hearing in a House oversight subcommittee on civil rights just a day after ExxonMobil began a trial in New York City over misleading investors on the business risks from government rules meant to address the climate crisis. Exxon’s role in hiding the mounting emergency has been widely publicized for four years, since the publication of an investigation by InsideClimate News, the Los Angeles Times and the Columbia Journalism School. Court proceedings and additional reporting have found more proof of Exxon’s longtime knowledge of the problem”. Read more …

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Communicating the Climate Crisis

KPFA Terra Verde

This show is all about how we talk, write, joke, and otherwise communicate about the climate crisis. It’s about who constructed existing narratives around climate change and which voices are given the biggest microphones when it comes to climate communication. It’s about how to approach difficult climate conversations with friends and family, and how and when to make people laugh, or cry, or feel hope when it comes to the climate crisis in front of us.

Terra Verde host and Earth Island Journal Managing Editor Zoe Loftus-Farren talks with Susanne Moser, a geographer, independent scholar and consultant working on climate adaptation, resilience, effective climate change communication, and more, and Max Boykoff, an associate professor at the University of Colorado, and author of the recently published book Creative Climate Communication. Listen here.

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This Researcher Thinks It’s OK to Joke About Climate Change

In fact, he thinks laughing about it may help us put an end to it

by Jeff Turrentine

As strange as it may sound, thinking about global warming can make a lot of people feel frozen in place. Fear can be paralyzing—and there’s a lot of scary news out there.

Feeling anxious and overwhelmed isn’t a particularly helpful reaction, and it can spiral. We know that collective action is the only thing that can save us. But we also know that we’re not seeing collective action at the scale, speed, and intensity required. In the gap between these two understandings, concern can quickly turn into fear, and fear can just as quickly turn into a kind of incapacitating fatalism.

Environmental education specialist Patrick Chandler has given this unfortunate psychological trajectory a lot of thought. And he believes he may have found the key to breaking it: art.

Chandler is a Ph.D. student at the University of Colorado Boulder’s Center for Science and Technology Policy Research. His interest in the intersection of art and climate change dates back to his previous job in Alaska, where he coordinated the marine debris cleanup program at the Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies. Sensing that the talks he was giving at conferences year after year weren’t moving the needle, he partnered with the visual artist Angela Haseltine Pozzi, whose Washed Ashore project enlists artists to make dazzling—and achingly poignant—sculptures of marine animals, crafted from ocean pollution. Suddenly Chandler was able to get people’s attention. “I started to see that art could open doorways of communication and directly reach groups that we weren’t able to reach before.”

Since coming to Colorado, Chandler has been exploring the role that art—and especially collaborative, performative art—might have to play in deepening and expanding our climate change discourse.

Alongside a team of professors whose specialties range from theater to evolutionary biology, Chandler is part of an unusual project at the University of Colorado Boulder called Inside the Greenhouse, which uses drama, film, fine art, performance art, television, and other creative media to enhance people’s understanding of climate issues. Participating students collaborate on climate-themed projects, working closely together from conception to completion. That the finished pieces might convey powerful messages about our global predicament is only part of what interests Chandler. He’s actually just as interested in how the artistic process itself can affect the creators. In that process he sees a model for the kind of imaginative collaboration that’s necessary to tackle a complex issue like climate change.

“If you’re just looking at the data surrounding these huge environmental issues, you can fall into a sense of hopelessness,” Chandler says. “I see a lot of fear, grief, and frustration in students of all ages.” He says many who are struggling seem to have found an emotional outlet in the recent youth climate strikes and are especially inspired by the movement’s eloquently passionate organizer, Greta Thunberg. “You watch her speak and it’s just heart-wrenching—her deep sense of anguish about this issue. I think a lot of young people are there with her but don’t know where to go from there.”

Chandler believes the arts can help students work through their difficult-to-process feelings, which could then lead to action. “I’ve seen the evidence that it can,” he says. “And there’s something specifically important about people engaging in creative work together.”

Some of that evidence can be found in the scholarly publication Comedy Studies—no joke, it’s real—a peer-reviewed academic journal that, in its editors’ words, “reflects the increasingly cross-disciplinary and international nature of studies into comedy and documents exciting and innovative research into this hitherto under-represented field.” With two of his Inside the Greenhouse colleagues, professors Beth Osnes and Maxwell Boykoff, Chandler coauthored a recent paper outlining the communication-boosting effect of a climate-focused sketch comedy workshop. In the workshop, students who described themselves as both aware of and worried about global warming were asked to collaborate on climate-themed comedy skits, which they would then perform in front of a live audience. (Sample skit: A family takes their beloved grandmother, who just happens to be a refrigerator, to Rocky Mountain National Park for one last family vacation before properly and responsibly disposing of her via a government-sponsored household appliance recycling program.)

The researchers hypothesized that by “bringing positive humor into conversations about climate,” students could learn to “regulate their emotions, grow as climate communicators, and—critically—be sustained in their affective communication of climate solutions.” Surveys collected at the project’s conclusion bore that hypothesis out: 83 percent of the students reported that the workshop’s “experience of joy and/or fun” had strengthened their ability to sustain their commitment to action, and 90 percent reported that it had increased feelings of hope. When asked if the workshop had improved their abilities as climate communicators, 93 percent of the students self-reported that it had.

During the workshop, as the students honed their comedic and performative skills, “you could feel that shift from fear about the performance to confidence about it,” Chandler says. Linking climate action to performative art is important, he believes, because performance “has inherent action to it. When it comes to climate change, so many people don’t know what to do or how to act.” Creating a play or skit about it, however, “puts them in a space of movement; it ends that feeling of being stuck because they physically have to get into it. Would I take any of these plays to Broadway? No. But are they deeply meaningful to the students who are involved and to the audiences that see them? Yes, because they’re done in a way that’s engaging and joyful, that helps us all sustain hope, and that enables collective action to follow.”

Scientists, lawyers, activists, and policymakers are key players in the fight against climate change. To this list, Chandler says, we must add the artists, and even the comedians, whose vision and energy open our eyes to existing realities and open our minds to possible solutions. Or as he puts it: “We’re going to need creative people if we’re going to re-create the world.”

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Drawdown, Act Up!

Youth Performance for Communicating Drawdown Solutions to Climate Change at the Drawdown Learn Conference

by Beth Osnes
CSTPR Faculty Affiliate and Associate Professor of Theatre and Environmental Studies at the University of Colorado

“What did the scientist say to the 1950s refrigerator?” “Are you Freon Friday night?” That joke wouldn’t land with a lot of crowds, but at the Drawdown Learn Conference, that groaner got a hearty laugh. This play on words was prompted by research conducted by Project Drawdown stating that refrigerant management is the top solution for reversing global warming.

Facilitated for youth performers, this joke was part of a ten-minute musical comedy performance, Drawdown, Act Up, featured during the plenary Saturday night Expo/party on October 20, 2019. Inside the Greenhouse was invited to present a workshop at the Drawdown Learn Conference for performance-based spectacle as a method for youth engagement. Our session shared field-tested methods for embodied youth engagement. The process is time-efficient and encourages creative participation. The joy experienced through the creative process carries over to the audience and can sustain commitment to climate action. Framing the performance was a giant Moving Mural, the pieces of which provided the transitions between songs and skits and, when brought together, revealed a final culminating message. This design gained inspiration from Stephen Duncombe’s open-source book Dream, “Ethical spectacle demands a different sort of participation. The people who participate in the performance of the spectacle must also contribute to its construction…popular participation not only can happen but must happen for the spectacle to come to fruition.”

At the conference, we also launched our new Inside the Greenhouse open educational resource, Drawdown, Act Up! for creatively engaging students in communicating Drawdown solutions. Our research on this project shows that the use of ‘good-natured’ comedy and fun helps young people process negative emotions regarding global warming, feeds hope, and sustains commitment to climate action. Additionally, embodying concepts is beneficial to learners. Each of the activities included is linked to a PDF of a ‘grab and go’ lesson plan that is classroom-tested, ready for easy implementation in the classroom or informal learning environment. 

Co-director of Inside the Greenhouse Beth Osnes, Associate Professor for Theatre and Environmental Studies at CU was joined at the conference by CU students Sarah Fahmy (Theatre PhD), Lianna Nixon (Education MA), Patrick Chandler (Environmental Studies PhD), and Emmet Norris (Geology BA).

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Hot Air: So What?

Boulder Channel 8
Deliberate Conversations

Colorado routinely has temperature swings of 20 – 30 degrees in a day. So what’s all the concern about the average temp rising 2 degrees?

Max Boykoff, CU Associate Professor in Environmental Studies, and Alexander Verbeek, Founder of the Institute for Planetary Security take on an atmospheric issue with Ralph Gregory.

Watch the video [28:58]

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New Approaches To Climate Change Communication

Living Lab Radio on WCAI
by Elsa Partan and Heather Goldstone

Think climate change is too serious to joke about? Consider this.

With each new scientific report, the situation seems more dire. But the social and political will to address the issue has lagged.

For years, scientists and communicators thought the problem was that the facts weren’t getting through to the public. But years of research suggests the obstacle may be a more fundamental issue of how we talk about climate change and science, more broadly.

And that has led some researchers to experiment with some pretty unorthodox ways to break through the inertia and polarization surrounding climate change.

Comedy is just one of several approaches Max Boykoff discusses in his new book Creative (Climate) Communications. He is Associate Professor of Environmental Studies and Director, Center for Science and Technology Policy Research, University of Colorado Boulder.

Listen to the program.

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Living at the Intersection of Climate Science and Action

by Lauren Gifford
PhD, CSTPR Research Affiliate (and friend of Jane’s)

Jane Zelikova has always enjoyed spending time outside and getting her hands dirty, which is one of the reasons she fell in love with ecology. An ecosystem scientist whose work connects climate change science and policy, Jane grew up in Ukraine and immigrated to the United States when she was 12. She earned a PhD in ecology and evolutionary biology from CU Boulder, and has worked across the western US and abroad, examining the effects of global change in natural and managed systems. She is Senior Scientist at Carbon180, a non-profit organization that brings together scientists, policymakers, and businesses to fundamentally rethink carbon. Jane also co-founded 500 Women Scientists and Hey Girl Productions. She lives in Boulder.

Ahead of her CSTPR Seminar on November 6, I sat down with Jane to ask her a few questions about her role as a scientist/activist.

1) What is the quick version of how you came to bridge the worlds of science, communication and activism?

Science and communication are two sides of the same coin. I am interested in science because I am a curious person, and I want to understand how the world works. But my own understanding is not meaningful (at least to me) unless it’s shared in a way that is accessible, both to other scientists and to folks outside of science. Activism is the next logical step in my mind – knowledge can be a powerful tool, used to help or harm. It’s important to me that the work we do as scientists is used for good, which means both communicating it in accessible ways and sometimes advocating for action.

Activism is in my DNA – I grew up in the Soviet Union, fed a steady diet of communist ideals at school, and a healthy dose of criticism of communism at home. I’ve always had a strong sense of right and wrong (often missing the moral grey area and struggling with the concept of compromise). I was an outspoken kid, adolescent, and adult. Activism is the next step; it’s saying out loud what feels off.

2) What does science activism look like? You are one of the founders of 500 Women Scientists– is that a type of science activism?

Science activism can come in many forms. For me, it can mean calling out inequities and amplifying the voices of under-represented groups. Following the 2016 presidential election, fellow CU alum Kelly Ramirez and I founded 500 Women Scientists, a global grassroots effort to make science more open, inclusive, and accessible.

Activism is very personal, and it doesn’t start or end with public marches or signing petitions. I think it’s a daily commitment to helping make our corner of the world a better place. It can mean recognizing all the ways science falls short and actively working to right those wrongs. For example, all-male panels, awards going to mostly white men, journalists consulting only white men – it’s all so pervasive that calling it out just isn’t enough. So we launched the Request a Woman Scientist platform to make it easy to find women experts to invite as a keynote or consult for a story. We also see that the majority of the efforts to make science more inclusive come from the folks who are most marginalized, often women of color. So, we are launching a fellowship for women of color to recognize and support those efforts. With a successful last round of fundraising this fall, we can support our first cohort of fellows starting in January 2020.

3) Do you believe scientists have an obligation to activism, or advocacy?

I don’t believe every scientist has an obligation to be an activist. But I do believe science touches the lives of every person on this planet, and scientists have the knowledge and positions of privilege to speak out in service of society, especially on topics where we have expertise. Many of us have experienced first-hand the structural inequities and biases in science, and we are in the best positions to advocate for and work towards justice and equality in science (and beyond). Many of us also work on issues that are deeply personal and reach beyond the ivory tower – climate change, public health, biodiversity loss – these issues affect us, and the people and places we love. We should feel empowered to advocate on behalf of our neighbors, our communities, our treasured places, ourselves.

4) What advice do you have for undergrads or graduate students on how they might think about sharing science outside of a university setting?

That’s where science should be shared – outside of the academic chatter, outside the university setting, out in the world where your science can serve the public. My advice is to share not just the facts, but also the joy and curiosity and adventure that working in science can bring. Most people are curious about the world and wonder how things work. That’s all science! The thing that sets scientists apart from everyone else are the methods we use to “wonder.” But we don’t own that space and we don’t have all the answers, so don’t be afraid to ask, to think outside the box, and to be yourself in science! And we can work together to make science more accessible and inclusive.

5) You often work on science documentaries, and you were featured in the short film The End of Snow. Do you think media like film, television, podcasts, etc. are a good way to share the “wonder” you mentioned?

YES! I am a mass consumer of media – I binge TV shows, podcasts, and “trashy” novels. Successful communication is all about making an emotional connection, tapping into some greater wisdom, and harnessing the power of curiosity – and mediums like television and podcasts successfully tap into those themes. To our own detriment, we have excised emotion and wonder from science, opting for sterile delivery of facts as if that removes our human biases (it doesn’t). I think bringing art and science together can free us from those sterile constraints and make science not only more interesting for the general public, but richer and more fulfilling for us!

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Public Discussion on Climate Policies with Colorado State Senator Steve Fenberg

On October 16, Colorado State Senator Steve Fenberg came to the University of Colorado to participate in the second of CSTPR’s seminar series “Public Discussion: Policies on Climate and Environment” (co-Hosted with the Benson Center for the Study of Western Civilization). Senator Fenberg, who represents Colorado Senate District 18 in Boulder County, participated in a Q&A session with CSTPR Director, Max Boykoff. The discussion was recorded and can be viewed here.

Other discussions with Colorado State Senators:

October 9: Colorado Senator Ray Scott (R – Grand Junction)
November 13: Colorado Senator Kerry Donovan (D – Chaffee)

View Full Fall 2019 Schedule

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Call for Papers: Climate Change, Science Communication, and the Media

AAG Session, April 6-10, 2020

Meaghan Daly, University of New England
Lucy McAllister, Babson College
Jeremiah Osborne-Gowey, University of Colorado Boulder

Session Sponsorship:
Cultural and Political Ecology Specialty GroupHuman Dimensions of Climate Change Specialty Group
Media and Climate Change Observatory (MeCCO) at University of Colorado Boulder

Submit your abstracts by COB Friday, October 25th!

In recent years, there have been increasing efforts to enhance public understanding of climate change. The field of science communication has grown rapidly in an effort to ‘bridge the gap’ between scientific knowledge about and societal responses to climate change (Moser, 2016). Similarly, the media – ranging from print, broadcast, and web resources – has played an increasingly vital role in shaping public perceptions and opinions about climate change, including available options for mitigating and adapting to change (Boykoff, 2011). Yet, significant questions remain about how best to communicate and engage with the public on the issue of climate change and what role the media should play in advancing these efforts. Furthermore, there is much evidence demonstrating that simply delivering more scientific information does not always result in greater public understanding or action to address wicked problems such as climate change – and may, in fact, even be counterproductive in some cases (O’Neill & Nicholson-Cole, 2009; Nisbet, Cooper, & Garrett, 2015). The ways in which climate change is understood, framed, portrayed, and taken up is subject to myriad social, political, historical, and cultural influences (Hulme, 2009).

This paper session will survey the current landscape of communications and media coverage of climate change – including assessment and critiques of theoretical underpinnings, methodological approaches, and potential policy solutions – while also creating space to productively situate these efforts within wider discussions about the role of expertise and values in shaping public understandings of science, decision-making, behavioral change, and policy-making. Thus, this paper session will examine the broader landscape of communications approaches and media coverage of climate change, including what they can and cannot tell us, while also offering insights toward potential paths forward. Sessions will be structured to foster constructive dialog among presenters, discussants, and audience members.  

Papers in these sessions may address, but are not limited to, the following questions:

  1. What are new or innovative theories for understanding climate communication and the media?
  2. What are different methodological approaches currently being applied in the field?
  3. What are the strengths and limitations of various methodological approaches?
  4. What are the policy and/or practical implications of current approaches to studying climate communications in the media?
  5. What are future trajectories for communicating on the issue of climate change and what role can / should the media play?
  6. What is the current role of experts/expertise in the science communication-media nexus and, just as importantly, what role should they have in the future?

Please submit abstracts of interest of no more than 250 words to Meaghan Daly (, Lucy McAllister (, and Jeremiah Osborne-Gowey ( by close of business, October 25th, 2019. Presenters will be notified of acceptance no later than October 28th, 2019. If accepted, presenters should register their abstract and send their PIN to organizers by October 30th.


Boykoff, M. T. (2011). Who speaks for the climate?: Making sense of media reporting on climate change. Cambridge University Press.

Hulme, M. (2009). Why we disagree about climate change: Understanding controversy, inaction and opportunity. Cambridge University Press.

Moser, S. C. (2016). Reflections on climate change communication research and practice in the second decade of the 21st century: what more is there to say?. Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Climate Change7(3), 345-369.

Nisbet, E. C., Cooper, K. E., & Garrett, R. K. (2015). The partisan brain: How dissonant science messages lead conservatives and liberals to (dis) trust science. The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 658(1), 36-66.

O’Neill, S., & Nicholson-Cole, S. (2009). “Fear won’t do it” promoting positive engagement with climate change through visual and iconic representations. Science Communication, 30(3), 355-379.

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