Climate Change, Media & Culture: Critical Issues in Global Environmental Communication

Cover of Climate Change, Media & Culture: Critical Issues in Global Environmental Communication


Table of contents

(10 chapters)

On September 9, 2018, Hurricane Irma swept across south Florida, leaving a path of destruction across the entire state. Miami-Dade County, at the southern tip of the state, avoided a direct hit. However, the storm left the county and its dozens of municipalities with gigantic mounds of storm debris. As the weeks went by, the piles festered and frustration with the pace of the clean-up mounted. Two dump sites in particular drew the attention of media and community activists: a park ringed by single family homes in Liberty City, a black community in the heart of Miami; and historic Virginia Key, the only beach open to black citizens under Jim Crow segregation. This research examines three narratives -- media coverage, official explanations from local governments, and reactions on social media -- as a way to investigate how the dumping of storm debris in black spaces was justified, interrogated, and contested in the aftermath of one of the worst hurricanes to strike Miami-Dade County in over a decade. Climate change models predict the increasing frequency of super storms like Irma, and discussions of how coastal cities respond in terms of infrastructure and resiliency are growing. This investigation looks at two components of this response that have not been as widely considered: what are the institutional and citizen responses in the aftermath of these storms, and how will issues of race and historic geographic marginalization be either acknowledged or ignored as the problems associated with climate change grow ever more acute and pressing.


It is not surprising that the dominant cognitive frame through which most audiences view climate change is that of an environmental problem. However, this messaging strategy has proven susceptible to counter-attacks, defensing processing, and other cognitive biases. As such, many environmental advocates are switching gears. From Barack Obama to Pope Francis, the environment-as-public-health-concern narrative is increasingly found in climate change messages. This strategy involves making the abstract issue of climate change more concrete by tying it to negative health impacts, like asthma, heat-related illness, and the spread of disease. Understanding why and for whom this strategy is persuasive, particularly in a social media context where users often encounter persuasive climate change messages, can help advance theory and practice.

The purpose of this chapter is two-fold: 1.) Test the effects of climate message frame (damage to nature or damage to public health), message source (liberal or conservative organization), and the use of visual human exemplars (present or absent) in social media messages; and, 2.) Assess the predictive utility of different conceptual frameworks (personification, construal level theory, and moral foundations theory) as explanatory mechanisms for persuasive social media climate message effects. The results of a nation-wide experiment reveal that the use of visual exemplars matters when climate change is framed as an environmental problem, but otherwise message frame, source, and visual exemplar use have little impact on policy attitudes. Further analyses demonstrated that multiple conceptual mechanisms related to the aforementioned theories help explain social media effects on climate change attitudes.


Residents of South Florida have been living with the effects of climate change in the form of flooding due, in part, to sea level rise, for more than a decade. However, previous research has characterized news coverage of climate change impacts as concerning distant events in terms of time and place. In this study, we look at coverage of climate change at The Miami Herald from 2011-2015, a time period significant in terms of increased temperatures and flooding levels on city streets. Through a content analysis of 167 articles, this study argues that news coverage of climate change in The Miami Herald was largely pragmatic, linked to a news peg, locally focused and presented via opinion pieces rather than news articles. Furthermore, Miami Herald coverage links distant hypotheses of climate change with local realities, invokes a network of editorial responses, and emphasizes local impacts, particularly in more affluent areas. Findings from this study contribute to understanding how news coverage of climate change as a local story may provide a useful model for engaging the public in adapting to and mitigating against the impact of climate change, and creating social acceptance of climate change policy.


Climate change is major global policy issue. The news media play a vital role in conveying information about climate change to the public, giving voice to a variety of perspectives as well as outlining policy responses to this issue. However, the growing distrust of news media could lead to dire outcomes on the public's knowledge and policy support related to climate change. This paper uses a mixed method approach (random digit dialing survey, content analysis of newspaper articles) to examine information sources used in learning about climate change, whose voices are presented in climate change discourse, and whose voices are trusted. While news media are the most popular source of information about climate change (n=1207), only half of respondents reported trusting the news media. Scientists are the most trusted source of information (n=1208) and most cited source in news coverage (n=48). Their messages focus on the sources of climate change and the seriousness of this problem. Scientists' messages about climate change are clouded by high levels of distrust in the news media, the primary venue through which their messages are conveyed. In this context, climate change knowledge, level of concern, and support for public policies may suffer.


The threat of climate change to life has provoked animated reactions through debates in academic and non-academic circles. It has also provoked research, regulations and campaigns across the globe. A notable area of concern has been people's awareness of, and consequent adjustment to, this pressing danger. This study begins from the critical perspective that there is little knowledge about the extent to which Africans, in general, and Ghanaians, in particular, are made aware of the climate change scourge and its implications. Thus, this study investigates the global discourse by providing knowledge on how the Ghanaian media inform people on climate change and the implications thereof. Underpinned by theories relating to the information function of the media, agenda setting and media effects, the study would draw data from in-depth interviews with key government and duty bearers, and from a qualitative content analytical approach using a broad spectrum of media outlets including online news portals. We theorise that the Ghanaian media grossly under-represent the climate change narrative, which could circumscribe people's awareness and knowledge of the phenomenon. The interventionist position the paper adopts is that a vigorous agenda focused on the specific Ghanaian and African media contexts be adopted to bring climate change issues to the doorstep of Ghanaians and Africans. Consequently, the study would present a number of critical ways to responding to the threat of regional and global climate change.


Cartoons have these last years represented an excellent way to lead debates on various socio-political and economic issues affecting Nigeria and to engage and enlighten Nigerian audiences. Almost all Nigerian newspapers and magazines have found them instrumental in their criticism of political malpractices and socio-cultural maladies plaguing the country. In line with this, many social forces (particularly NGOs) have embraced cartooning as a strong tool for environmental activism. Such social entities have in various platforms, deployed cartoons as a fruitful sensitization machinery to mobilize various segments of the Nigerian populace in favor of environmental protection. These sensitization efforts have most often entailed the construction/composition of emotionally and ideologically loaded cartoons that reflect many local myths and which are founded on local idiosyncrasies and worldviews. Understanding some Nigerian environmental cartoons has thus often been a complex task which in many instances, necessitates not only a full grasp of the principles of visual rhetoric but equally sufficient knowledge of some local myths and socio-cultural realities. In view of this fact, it may be interesting to apply semiotics in the reading of environmental cartoons. This chapter addresses this issue. It is divided into three main parts. The first part explores the state of environmental protection in Nigeria. The second part examines cartoons as a tool for social and political activism. The third part provides theoretical illuminations on the use of semiotics in the interpretation of cartoons and the last part provides a semiotic analysis of selected environmental cartoons.


The chapter reviews recent evidence of, and debates about, the integration of art, entertainment, and media in media portrayals (e.g., movies, photographs, theater, music, performance art, museums, story-telling, modifications of an environmental space, social media, painting, comics, dance, videogames, etc.) of climate change based on three sources of data: 1) articles listed in academic reference databases and Google Scholar, 2) online sites, and 3) climate change news images. 1) Retrieved articles discuss both the potential and challenges of communicating about climate change through art, entertainment, and media. However, research is inconsistent on and in some cases is critical of the nature and extent of effects of art-based climate communication. 2) The Internet is a rich and diverse source of websites and videos about climate change. We analyzed 49 sites based on the art medium or form discussed, the primary content related to climate change, and the apparent goal of the site or video. The most frequent goals were promote action, collaboration, raise awareness, climate change communication, discussion, empowerment, reshape public perception, and engagement. 3) Based on the major themes and frames identified through content and cluster analysis of 350 images associated with 200 news articles from 11 US newspaper and magazine sources through late 2009, we summarize the theme of art and mass media representations of the environment, and how those are associated with the other major themes. We conclude by suggesting promising areas for future research on the intersection of art and science in communicating about climate change.

Cover of Climate Change, Media & Culture: Critical Issues in Global Environmental Communication
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