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Demoralizing: integrating J.D. Peters’ communication “chasm” with Niklas Luhmann’s (1989) ecological communication to analyze climate change mitigation inaction

Jacob A. Miller (Department of Sociology, Anthropology, and Social Work, Kansas State University, Manhattan, Kansas, USA)


ISSN: 0368-492X

Article publication date: 17 June 2021

Issue publication date: 29 March 2022




The purpose of this paper is to explain the US society’s insignificant mitigation of climate change using Niklas Luhmann’s (1989) autopoietic social systems theory in ecological communication. Specifically, the author’s analysis falls within the context of Luhmann re-moralized while focusing on particular function systems’ binary codes and their repellence of substantive US climate change mitigation policy across systems.


The author achieves this purpose by resituating Luhmann’s conception of evolution to forgo systems teleology and better contextualize the spatial-temporal scale of climate change; reinforcing complexity reduction and differentiation by integrating communication and media scholar John D. Peters’s (1999) “communication chasm” concept as one mechanism through which codes sustain over time; and applying these integrated concepts to prominent the US climate change mitigation attempts.


The author concludes that climate change mitigation efforts are the amalgamation of the systems’ moral communications. Mitigation efforts have relegated themselves to subsystems of the ten major systems given the polarizing nature of their predominant care/harm moral binary. Communication chasms persist because these moral communications cannot both adhere to the systems’ binary codes and communicate the climate crisis’s urgency. The more time that passes, the more codes force mitigation organizations, activist efforts and their moral communications to adapt and sacrifice their actions to align with the encircling systems’ code.

Social implications

In addition to the conceptual contribution, the social implication is that by identifying how and why climate change mitigation efforts are subsumed by the larger systems and their codes, climate change activists and practitioners can better tool their tactics to change the codes at the heart of the systems if serious and substantive climate change mitigation is to prevail.


To the author’s knowledge, there has not been an integration of a historical communication concept into, and sociological application of, ecological communication in the context of climate change mitigation.



The author would like to thank Dr Matthew R. Sanderson for his initiation of this work, conceptual framing of this paper, edits and contributions. He indebted to his mentorship, advisement and encouragement, for this project and innumerable others.


Miller, J.A. (2022), "Demoralizing: integrating J.D. Peters’ communication “chasm” with Niklas Luhmann’s (1989) ecological communication to analyze climate change mitigation inaction", Kybernetes, Vol. 51 No. 5, pp. 1775-1799.



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