The article analyses, if and to what extend the media coverage of the UN climate summit in Paris 2015 influences knowledge or problem awareness of climate Change in the German public. The results of a three-wave panel survey show that media coverage increases knowledge and problem awareness in the public only in certain aspects.
The Paper was published by Michael Brüggemann, Professor of climate and science communication at the University of Hamburg, Fenja De Silva-Schmidt, Imke Hoppe as well as Dorothee Arlt and Josephine B. Schmitt.
Der Artikel untersucht, inwieweit die Berichterstattung über die UN-Klimakonferenz 2015 in Paris den Wissensstand der deutschen Bevölkerung beeinflusst und sie für das Thema Klimawandel sensibilisiert. Die Ergebnisse einer Panelbefragung in drei Wellen zeigen, dass die Berichterstattung das Wissen und die Sensibilität für das Thema in der Bevölkerung nur in bestimmten Aspekten vergrößert.
Publiziert wurde die Arbeit durch Michael Brüggemann, Professor für Klima- und Wissenschaftskommunikation an der Universität Hamburg, Fenja De Silva-Schmidt, Imke Hoppe sowie Dorothee Arlt und Josephine B. Schmitt.
I’ve never considered myself a radical youth, a hard-core feminist or any other kind of fundamental advocate. However, being at COP in Paris, I recognized power dynamics that I had for a long time considered things of the past.
I recognized people struggling with antiquated roles that are not visible or formulated but resonated everywhere. I saw women, youth and people from developing countries being marginalized (perhaps inadvertently) by the black-and white masses of the “middle-aged-white-men wearing black”. I am sorry to dig out stereotypes, and my expressions might be a little exaggerated, but my point is, at COP, not all voices are equally heard and considered. Let me describe some of my observations that brought me to these conclusions:
Walking around the venue – on the surface there seemed to be both men and women and a diversity of races, cultures and ages represented. However, at the side events (speeches, presentations and panels) the uniformity in gender, age and cultural context among speakers was remarkable. Just for fun, at some of the side events I started taking statistics on the speakers’ diversity. The result were as surprising as they were alarming. Bearing in mind the importance of diverse people from around the world having their unique voices and perspectives heard on climate change, the effect is has on communities and possible actions that could be taken, the lack of representation for many minority groups was very concerning. From all the panels I attended; of the usual seven to eight speakers on a typical panel, the most diversity I observed were two women and two non “white” people (oh, how I hate this categorization).
Sometimes, these seemingly quota-filling individuals were merged into one person. When it came to youth – the seeming lack of representation was even more serious. While I didn’t ask everyone their age, from what I saw, I believe not a single speaker was under 40. The only exceptions to these statistics that I observed were the side events about:
“Gender issues”: going to the other extreme, having very few men on the panel
“Young innovators”: having a good mixture of youth and middle-aged men. Yes only men – which made it again, very one-sided
“Africa Day”: Had only non-white people on the panel and fitting into the statistic of having two women from seven panelists
“Human rights”: Had the best gender balance of any panel I saw with four women (with two none-white people among them) and three men
It seems to me, that everyone is doing his or her own thing, trying to rebel against existing preconceptions and always accusing “the other side”. Women ally with women to “fight” the male “predominance.” Why they should ally with men to address the issue seriously? Youth ally themselves with youth at special youth events or in activists groups celebrating their creative and innovative ideas. Why should they speak up in the official meetings? You get the idea..
Please don’t get me wrong – there is nothing wrong with forming alliances with people that share the same thoughts and opinions as you- but the actions move in the wrong direction when the alliances start to form blocks instead of broad coalitions. Without communicating these limitations (which is what this blog entry tries to do), a dialogue between the different positions cannot be facilitated and instead front lines harden further.
The conflict arising through the under-representation of women, youth, indigenous people and others further continues. It is not only about having faces be seen, but about having voices be heard. Voices, that do not accuse, blame or beg, but voices that tell the truth in an understandable and just way. When facing under-representation and marginalization, I have the feeling that these voices (with women being by far the largest minority in society, you know) feel the need to team up – which is good in the first place. However, in the way these groups communicate, they expose themselves to a situation of weakness and inability which is not needed. They feel the need to fight against prejudices and preconceptions that they assume exist in their audiences’ heads. Let me give you some examples to illustrate what I mean:
Each and every speaker at the “Africa Day” emphasized at least two times that they “are not here to beg” – assuming that everybody was expecting developing countries to be begging in Paris
The youth speakers emphasized their need for more and better education, especially in situations like this – assuming that youth do not have any chance of making their point facing the high-level experiences of the older people
Women speaking up and reinforcing the work and the efforts of many other women – assuming that the women’s good work will otherwise not be recognized
We should be far beyond the point of having to justify what we do and why we do it. These issues have been recognized for a long time in the Declaration of Human Rights.
What is missing now is the implementation of these points in a way so no one feels underrepresented, marginalized and consequently feels the need to justify themselves. Establishing an equal and just way of communicating our thoughts and opinions, in an environment that enables a fair dialogue would relax communication and allow us to focus on the things that are actually important: like including human rights issues into the Paris agreement.
As world leaders continue negotiations at COP21 in Paris, apparently close to sealing some sort of deal to fight climate change – the future of nations’ energy production is an essential consideration, if this conference is to result in meaningful change, rather than just an increase in hot air.
A recent study at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research predicted that if we were to burn all remaining fossil fuel below ground, it would melt nearly all of Antarctica’s ice leading to a 50 or 60 meter rise in sea levels. One hopes humanity avoids such a fate.
In the mid mid-90s, a terrible post-apolocalyptical movie starring Kevin Costner (with gills) called Waterworldwas released. The film imagined a world in which the ice caps had melted, submerging most of the earth’s surface below water and leaving the few remaining humans desperate to discover the mythical Dryland. It’s safe to assume most people would like to avoid a future involving no land, or Kevin Costner as our saviour.
A key step in the fight against climate change is for nations to switch from “dirty” energy production such as burning coal and oil to clean renewable energy sources like wind, hydro and solar.
For both developed and developing nations alike, one of the major barriers to switching to renewables is… (drum roll): money. The set-up costs for renewable infrastructure are often extremely high and the roll-out of such technology may take many years.
There’s also the issue of generator capacity. It may take as many as 2077 2-megawatt wind generators to generate the same amount of power as a single nuclear reactor. This is part of the reason that despite strong public sentiment against nuclear power in Germany, the Government cannot simply switch off the eight remaining reactors which still generate 16 percent of the nation’s energy.
One of the sticking points in previous climate summits has been the amount of money developed nations contribute to developing nations to help them reduce their carbon footprint. While the transition for dirty energy to renewables may be slow and costly, one has to say, it’s kind of a price worth paying.
Another reason for the slow transition to renewables is the power and influence wielded by mighty oil and gas companies.
As it stands, the playing field between fossil-fuel and renewable energy companies is not even remotely fair. In 2014 fossil fuels agencies received around $550 billion in subsidies world-wide. Sustainable energy agencies, by comparison, received only $120 billion.
The oil and gas industries are major employers. A 2011 report by the American Petroleum Institute (API) said there were 9.8 million full-time and part-time U.S. jobs in oil and gas that accounted for 8 percent of the U.S. economy. That kind of workforce gives an industry influence. Few rational people would advocate for instantly shutting oil and gas industry immediately. After all, oil is used in vast numbers of consumer products most of us enjoy and changing to alternatives will take time. The argument, therefore is that we need to shift towards renewable energy sources much faster than we currently are (see graph below).
The oil and gas lobby have practically endless resources to influence politicians, particularly in the US (see here). The industry are unlikely to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs while the money is still flowing, even though the price of oil has recently dropped significantly.
By their nature, governments and politicians focus on the short-term and winning the next election. When it comes to saving the planet – thinking about the short-term is the last thing we need.
Last year The International Energy Agency singled out the Middle East as a region where fossil fuel subsidies are hampering renewables. According to their report, every day 2 million barrels per day are burnt to generate power that could otherwise come from renewables. Such renewable would be competitive if oil wasn’t heavily subsidised. It takes bold political leadership for a nation to opt for several years of low or negative economic growth in order to transition to cleaner sources of energy production and to construct the necessary infrastructure. The real question is – in the long-term, can any nation afford not to make the change? Economic growth is a rather useless pursuit if the planet on which we all live is no longer able to support life.
In Beijing, residents are now accostomed to “code red” smog alerts where the city’s streets are ruled off-limits, factories are closed down and cars are banned from driving until the pollution subsides. I experienced this myself on a visit to China last year. After only a few days in Beijing, my lungs became deeply congested. See this real time air pollution monitor and note the cities around the world that have either red or dark red number above them.
Saving the environment while stimulating growth are not mutually exclusive pursuits. There are already countries that demonstrate achieving both simultaneously is possible. So who are these countries?
Well, Sweden and Germany for starters.
In the 4th edition of the Global Green Economy Index report, the two nations came up trumps. The report examined factors such as efficiency, markets and investment as well as climate leadership and the quality of nation’s natural environments. It also included how green countries were perceived to be by experts (Germany was first, Sweden third) verses how well they performed in reality (Sweden first, Germany fourth). Sweden is so good at recycling its waste – it actually imports garbage. Germany proved how quickly a country can make the transition to renewable energy. Between 2000-2014 Germany went from just 6 percent to around a third of total energy coming from renewables.
So would a country like China – currently the world’s biggest carbon emitter, consider slowing down or event halting its fantastic economic growth to transition to a greener economy? Right now, it seems highly unlikely. They have made some progressive moves such as spending more than any other nation investing in green technology last year but under current targets, they won’t peak their carbon output until 2030.
Should we exchange temporary economic growth for the long-term health of the planet?
In this TED talk climate researcher Anna-Bows Larking cites her own study saying that in order for us to prevent exceeding Earth’s climate budget: “economic growth needs to be exchanged, at least temporarily for a period of planned austerity in wealthy nations.” She makes the point that carbon emissions tend to be cumulative and can potentially remain in Earth’s atmosphere for more than a century. This means if we don’t undertake significant cuts in our carbon emissions now, we will have to make much more drastic cuts in the future.
In 2012 this paper about transitioning to a green economy was presented to the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development. The conclusion of the report stated:
“Some sectors will feel the pain of transition, and countries that specialize in those sectors will be challenged accordingly. But while the individual losers are clearly important, it is also important to put the pain of adjustment into perspective. As noted above, it has been well documented that the costs of action are far less than the costs of inaction. In the long run, perpetuating unsustainable livelihoods is not in anyone’s interest.”
What is often forgotten in the public discourse on climate change, however, is how regular people around the world make sense of what’s going on in Paris. The teenager in Newark, the student in Madrid or the businesswoman in Pune. It has often times been reiterated that climate change affects every one of us. In this analysis I will shed some light into how climate change is discussed on the “front page of the internet”: Reddit.
In terms of social media, Reddit is an old man among the likes of Instagram, Snapchat, Yik Yak or Voat. The social news/bookmarking site was founded in 2005 and is nowadays one of the most popular sites on the web (Alexa ranks Reddit as the 31st most visited site in the world). Ever wondered where your Facebook friends get their weird news stories or your news site the funny cat video? Well, there’s a high chance Reddit was somehow involved. The site allows you to read and post links, pictures, videos, songs or your own story to specific thematically clustered forums (so called subreddits or subs and indicated by an /r/). A picture of your puppy, for example, would be posted in /r/aww. Additionally Reddit also allows you to comment on each of these links and discuss your puppy’s cuteness with strangers all over the world, and like or dislike other user’s pets or their comments (called upvotes and downvotes). This makes Reddit one of the most vibrant and diverse internet forums on the web.
For this blogpost I naturally didn’t look at puppy pictures (well, that too) but rather how climate change was discussed in the seven days from November 30 to December 6 . I scraped Reddit for all posts that had the terms “climate change”, “global warming”, “climate paris” and “cop21” in their title. This resulted in 2.020 unique submissions, i.e. news articles, videos, images or text posts. This stat alone shows how relevant climate change is for Reddit users. In a first step I looked at the amount of posts per search term and how that differed from each other.
We can see that “climate change” was the most used search term for the last week (n=980) and “global warming” the least (n=300). Unsurprisingly, on the first day there were the most posts on Reddit, with the amount of posts rapidly declining over the next few days. This is most likely closely connected to the media’s reporting on COP21 but, it may also relate to the tedious middle phase of the conference, where generally little progress is made and new developments are rare.
In a next step I looked at the most popular posts to see if there’s some kind of pattern. There were 8 posts that had over 1.000 upvotes (almost a guarantee for a spot on Reddit’s front page and thus to be seen by millions of people all over the world). This picture which also inspired the title of this post, has been viewed over 1.5 million times, received 5.794 upvotes and 495 comments (the top comment says “I bet she uses that sign for everything.”). The second most upvoted link shows, however, that Reddit is not only about funny pictures. It can also be about politics: this article by The New York Times got posted in the politics subreddit and states that “Two-Thirds of Americans Want U.S. to Join Climate Change Pact”. It got 5.613 upvotes and 1.266 comments. The only topic that reached the front page twice was the hacking of the advertisement spaces in Paris (one of the posts linked to these images). However Reddit does not only give you the option to post pictures of news stories but it also offers people the opportunity to give “mass interviews”, so called Ask Me Anythings (AMAs). Janos Pasztor (Ban Ki-moon’s senior adviser on climate change) took this chance and answered Reddit’s questions on what negotiators looked like or how one should deal with climate skeptics.
This glimpse alone shows just how diverse Reddit can be. To fully understand the spectrum of the sites diversity I took a closer look at the subreddits. I took the amount of submissions per subreddit, the average amount of comments per submission and the average amount of upvotes a submission got and plotted these accordingly.
First of all, we can see that users posted about climate change on a wide variety of subreddits reaching from satire (/r/shittyaskscience), science (/r/science), politics (/r/conservative) to local news (/r/Calgary) (426 subreddits in total). We can also see that the majority of these subreddits are neither used frequently for posts about climate change nor get a lot of comments or upvotes. There may be two reasons for this: on the one hand many of these subreddits are not that popular and thus not very visible for other users. On the other hand, climate change may not be the most “engaging” issue for users.
Another aspect that supports these ideas is the difference between normal subreddits and the so called “default” ones (since there is no official list I used this user generated one). These are the subreddits which are mostly on the front page and to which a Reddit user is subscribed to by default and which are consequently the ones with the most subscribers and biggest reach. These default subreddits are the blue dots in Fig. 2. You can see the difference between funny (e.g. the old lady on the climate march), IAmA (e.g. Janos Pasztor’s AMA) and pics (e.g. the faux ads but also pictures of the protests in Paris which have been covered on this blog, too) and the rest. There are only few posts in these subreddits but those few had a lot of upvotes and comments and thus a wide reach and big engagement.
In stark contrast to these default subreddits stand the most active ones. There were, for example, 173 posts to /r/environment which dealt with all different kinds of topics (e.g. conference process, national politics or scientific studies) but which were barely commented upon or upvoted. This holds also true for other subreddits like /r/betternews or /r/climate. One default subreddit which is used actively for climate related news is /r/worldnews (n=94). Indeed, one of the Top 8 posts was submitted to this subreddit and dealt with the possibility of Exxon having to pay billions in a climate change lawsuit. But on the other side a lot of posts on /r/worldnews were not as successful, thus resulting in a comparatively low average upvote and comment score.
A last subreddit I want to draw your attention to is /r/climateskeptics. This “safe space” for skeptics has seen 79 submissions with an average of 12 upvotes and 8 comments per post. Covered issues were, for example, the scientific consensus (the dreaded 97%), the supposed hiatus, a link between climate change and terrorism (this actually got discussed in several mostly conservative subreddits) or the fact that a French weatherman and skeptic got hired by the Kremlin. Additionally, /r/climateskeptics is one of the few subreddits which actively promotes the term “global warming” (n=25; only /r/environment used it more often with 27 posts) next to “climate change” (n=36; /r/environment with 101 posts) thus echoing a recent study by Jang and Hart to some extent.
For this blog post I set out to look at how Reddit’s users discussed climate change. With this small analysis, I was able to show that Reddit users greatly care about climate change. The political nature of COP21 influenced Reddit’s agenda strongly in this respect. Not only were the political subreddits among the most active and engaging but also news posts of Obama’s speech in Paris, YouTube videos of the faux ads or images of rioting protesters were prominently discussed all over Reddit. Additionally, climate change was discussed on all different kinds of levels: internationally, nationally but also locally. Reddit wouldn’t be true to its spirit, if there weren’t also a few posts that looked at climate change humorously (e.g. this idea to solve climate change submitted to /r/shittyaskscience), scientifically (e.g. this remarkable study) or suspecting a big conspiracy (/r/climateskeptics or /r/conspiracy) and thus emphasizing Reddit’s thematic and user diversity.
When looking at such a diverse and multi-faceted site as Reddit there are a few aspects which have to be neglected. Most notably, I chose to focus for this blogpost on the submitted posts and ignored the comments. This analysis is thus only able to give you a broad idea of how internet users from all over the world discuss climate change and the conference in Paris and its small and the big stories.
Note: I’d like to thank Stephan Schlögl and Adrian Rauchfleisch for their valuable tips, help and insight with R.
 The time on Fig. 1 shows that I also scraped some posts from Nov 29. As recommended by Reddit, I used Epochconverter to get all posts from Nov 30 00:00 to Dec 7 00:00. Naturally, this somehow skews the plot but the trend remains the same either way. If you have an idea how that happened, let me know!
 All upvote and comment numbers stem from the time of my scrape and do not necessarily still have to be the exact amount of votes or comments. Reddit is tricky that way.
Monday morning the climate summit started with scores of state leaders arriving in their black cars, delegates and press mostly in hybrid shuttle buses.
But Espace Générations Climat – the forum for all the non-accredited NGOs and activists, remained closed. They were not allowed to open until Tuesday, evidently for security reasons. The amount one has to pay to be there is rather steep. A woman representing a small NGO said they had to pay 1700 Euro for just 9m2.
The only demonstrators the delegates would see as they entered the accredited grounds of COP21 on Monday morning were seven angels with posters promoting climate justice and scorning fossil energy. The angels are Australian, and have travelled widely with their message already. “Who would arrest angels?,” – an Australian professor from Melbourne commented. After noticing how they navigated through police blocks at Place de la République on Sunday, when the going got tough, we were convinced. As they days have passed, small groups of demonstrators have made their mark inside the official Cop (the blue zone.) also, applauded by passers-by.
Justice and island states
Climate justice? Yes, but where to draw the line? Before this conference, it was taken for granted that the conference was going to be about the two degree target, the aim that everyone spoke about, where the world, in a best case scenario, was heading. So far the pledges would keep global warming just below three degrees. Then again, pledges and practices are not identical entities. As the conference develops it has become increasingly clear that the Least Developed Countries (LDC’s) and G77 will not agree to a final document unless the rich nations increase their commitment to financing adaptation substantially.
A growing coalition of indigenous people, island state representatives and large parts of civil society are now insisting on one and a half degree increase, maximum. This call seems to have been heard by politicians at the opening ceremony. Both Francois Hollande and Angela Merkel emphasized the island state vulnerability. Utopian as it may seem, the lower one and a half degree target was mentioned by some western leaders. Hollande even said he wanted to lend his voice to the island states. President Obama met the island leaders Tuesday. However, as a seasoned COP-participant uttered: “The politicians sound generous, the negotiators will be less so.”
Case-ification of the poor …
Another rhetorical feature is the way in which some leaders promote special ‘cases’ of the vulnerable. French minister of Foreign Affairs Laurent Fabius, who chairs COP21, spoke of an elderly woman he had met in Bangladesh. Due to climate change, she had shifted home nine times and had asked him if the COP would do anything to change her circumstance. We do not think he had an answer ready at hand. President Obama emphasized his own experiences from drastic changes in Alaska, and also mentioned a young Indonesian lady in Malaysia who had challenged him to take action. The president of Honduras mentioned Maria, who, like 70 percent of his population, cooked over open fire, but was helped to cook more environment-friendly. But do these narratives bring the global leaders closer to the realities on the ground?
The state leaders, due to time constraints, held their introductory speeches in parallel sessions. President Obama and the Norwegian Prime minister Erna Solberg spoke simultaneously. So did Vladimir Putin and Brazilian Dilma Roussef. While these speeches entered our ears, press releases kept pouring into email boxes, while some printed versions still land on your desk. In the press room, reporters risked fragmented experiences, a permanent peril to anyone trying to report from this global event. Every journalist has to make hard choices.
Can we really believe that global leaders have grasped the situation now? Competing diagnoses still exist in this forum. The president of Paraguay, Horacio Cartes has warned against unlimited growth and repeated the claim for an international court mechanism dealing with crimes against the environment. Evo Morales from Bolivia reiterated that capitalism has steered Mother Earth towards the abyss. On the other hand, many western leaders, not least Obama (Monday) and Michael Bloomberg (Friday), are increasingly enthusiastic about ‘green growth’ and the ability businesses have to save the system as well as the planet.
A row of initiatives were launched to convince the conference that we are heading in the right direction, pledging funding for positive development as well as a quota system and new market mechanisms. But few of these initiators bothered to visit the Climate Vulnerability Forum, assembled Monday. More than thirty leaders from the most vulnerable nations were there to defend the one and a half degree target. The strongest appeal came from young José Sixto Gonzales from the Philippines who told that his archipelago experiences around 22 typhoons a year. While he admitted he would rather be at home, he said he represented his new-born daughter – and all other children. He said the one and a half degree target is at the core of these negotiations. Further, he said that his countrymen, who had survived typhoon Haiyan, are in a sense experts on climate change and deserve being listened to.
José is active on social media and had gathered mountains of responses. “Please listen to all these voices. Tell us that it is about now!” The forum applauded. The UN climate leader Christina Figueres offered her advice to the forum and asked them to let their voices be even louder, and to exploit the positive rhetoric of western leaders to the full.
With one week nearly done, next week we’ll see if rhetoric translates into action.