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Media has important role in communicating climate change

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From the democratic functions of local journalism to polarisation in the climate debate on Twitter. New research, published by Nordicom at the University of Gothenburg, highlights how climate concerns shape the communications landscape of today.

Recent times have seen another peak in global media attention to climate change, not least after the summer’s raging wildfires in Canada, the US and Greece, shocking floods in Germany and China, and new recordings of the highest temperatures ever around the world. If not before, the situation became clear during the summer when the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change published its fresh and alarming update on the state of our planet.

In a new issue of the scientific journal Nordic Journal of Media Studies, published by Nordicom at the University of Gothenburg, researchers take the weight of the current climate crisis as their starting point. The articles illustrate how climate concerns shape the communication landscape in diverse ways, from local journalism to global identities, from visual arts to everyday images in social media, and from climate denialist networks to climate activism in politics.

The crucial role of local journalism

One of the studies presented addresses how climate change is discussed in local media in four Swedish cities that aim to be role models in the transition to carbon neutrality.

The findings show that the local press uphold central democratic functions in these communities. However, despite the cities’ ambitious green plans to become climate neutral by 2030, the strategies and way forward remain vague for local journalists, and probably also for their readers.

“If the newspapers had assigned climate reporters or put aside special resources for the environmental area on a more regular basis, the possibilities to report from a local perspective about this very complex global issue would increase”, says associate professor Annika Egan Sjölander, author of the article and senior lecturer at the Department of Culture and Media Studies at Umeå University.

The climate debate on Twitter

Climate change discussions on Twitter are also highlighted. One study shows that climate activists and climate sceptics have a tendency to communicate mostly within their own group – and that there is often a distinct absence of information sharing across groups.

The study also looks at what kind of tweets go viral in the climate debates and finds that themes associated with virality are ones that further enhance ingroup connections, while repulsing outgroup engagement. A closer look at these themes shows there is considerable difference in the kind of bonds that hold the two groups together. Discussion of the climate movement is most predictive of virality among climate activists, while the use of uncivil language is most predictive of virality among climate sceptics.

“This has implications in the broader context of climate change politics and communication, in that it reveals the potential for viral spreading to exacerbate polarisation in the climate debate on Twitter”, says Yan Xia, lead author of the article and doctoral candidate at Aalto University.

Addressing pressing questions and challenges

In the issue many other pressing questions are discussed by a cast of established and emerging media scholars who – by using new methods and introducing new perspectives – offer sharp challenges to the media, political actors and citizens.

“Talking about the climate issue as a crisis highlights that time is getting short for effective policy measures, but also that the threats and uncertainties that climate change brings have already changed society at all levels”, says Risto Kunelius, professor of Media and Communications Studies at the University of Helsinki and one of the issue’s editors.

Read more:
Nordic Journal of Media Studies: Media and the Climate Crisis edited by Risto Kunelius and Anna Roosvall. Published by Nordicom at the University of Gothenburg.

Contact:

  • Risto Kunelius, professor in Media and Communications Studies, University of Helsinki, e-mail: risto.kunelius@helsinki.fi, phone +35 840 190 4085
  • Anna Roosvall, professor in Media and Communications Studies, Stockholm University, e-mail: anna.roosvall@ims.su.se, phone +46 73 396 1220

BY: Mia Jonsson Lindell