IPCC Report Trumps Trump: Climate Change on Twitter in 2018

by Fenja De Silva-Schmidt

While Donald Trump was responsible for most peaks in the Twitter debate on climate change in recent years, 2018 was different: a scientific report trumped Trump in triggering the most intensive Twitter debate related to climate change.

As in previous years, we take a look at the Twitter data our Online Media Monitor (OMM) has gathered over the course of 2018, and describe the events that triggered tweets about climate change, as well as the most important domains that were linked to and the most active accounts in our sample.

In summary, the number of tweets related to climate change has again risen in the past year. However, our sample does not allow us to examine whether this means that climate change has become a more prominent topic in Twitter communication, or if the number of tweets in total has risen, too.

For most of the year, the number of climate change-related tweets per day is astonishingly stable. In the second half of 2018, attention peaks were triggered by political and scientific events, as well as weather phenomena.

There were more than 1,200 tweets per day for the first time in 2018 in early August, during the persistent heat wave and drought in Europe. Forest fires were raging in Portugal while Germany and other countries were suffering from extreme drought. On Aug. 6, the German Potsdam Institut für Klimafolgenforschung (Potsdam Institute for research on climate change effects) issued a statement that climate change might trigger heat waves sooner than previously thought. (We already analyzed if and how the weather triggered climate change coverage earlier on this blog.)

In September, Hurricane „Florence“ hit the US. The peak of attention manifested on Twitter when scientists’ reports connected the storm to climate change, warning that climate change will probably intensify the frequency and magnitude of hurricanes.

The most discussed event on Twitter in 2018 was a scientific one: After the release of the IPCC special report “on the impacts of global warming of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels” on Oct. 7, the OMM recorded an all-time high of 4196 tweets on one day. In comparison: The highest peak in 2017 had 2803 tweets per day, when Trump announced to leave the Paris Agreement; in 2016 his mention of a “climate hoax” in the presidential debate with Hillary Clinton triggered 1485 tweets that fit our criteria.

Again, it was Trump who triggered another peak of attention for climate change, with his dismissive reaction to the fourth national climate assessment for the USA. Although the report warned that the US will face serious economic consequences of climate change, the American president just did not “believe it“.

As in previous years, the UN climate summit was a major driver of Twitter dialogue about climate change. Its beginning on Dec. 3 resulted in the highest number of tweets in the two weeks of the summit. Unsurprisingly, the debate reached its low point on Dec. 25, when most Twitter users were likely too busy celebrating Christmas to tweet about climate change.

We can sum up – in accordance with our colleagues from MeCCO, who are following the climate change debate in offline media – that Donald Trump is still a major driver of attention for climate change (although often in a negative way). In contrast to the previous year, however, he is not dominating the main events any more: Out of the five events triggering the most tweets, only one related to him directly. The other events are a combination of extreme weather events and scientific reports, linking the weather events to the greater picture of climate change. Thus, the voice of science seems to have become more prominent in the global Twitter debate.

Regarding the domains that the tweets linked to, there were almost no changes compared to previous years. News outlets still dominate the ranking. Two of them are new in our top ten list: Vox, an American news and opinion website noted for its concept of explanatory journalism, and grist.org, an independent news outlet and network of innovators writing about climate, sustainability, and social justice. On rank 10, we find the personal blog of an Australian climate activist.

  Domain Count
1 www.theguardian.com 4550
2 www.nytimes.com 1837
3 www.independent.co.uk 1143
4 www.washingtonpost.com 947
5 thinkprogress.org 876
6 insideclimatenews.org 834
7 www.vox.com 683
8 www.bloomberg.com 663
9 grist.org 658
10 jpratt27.wordpress.com 624

The three accounts contributing the most tweets in 2018 were “GlobalClimateChange” (@GCCThinkActTank) with 56,759 tweets in our sample, Anne-Maria Yritys (@annemariayritys) with 33,943 tweets and AroundOnlineMedia180 (@AroundOMedia) with 20,814 tweets. All three accounts belong to the same person – who self-declares herself as “Finland’s most followed business person on Twitter” and describes herself as “an active (online) networker and social media strategist” also interested in climate change and sustainability. As far as a Google search reveals, she seems to be a real person and not a bot – which would make her case a stunning example how single people can reach vast audiences via social media.

The most retweeted tweets in 2018 were all sent by accounts that are extremely active, having sent more than 50,000 and up to 150,000 tweets. They contained either extreme right positions or an extremely positive stance towards climate activism – this is not a pattern specific for the topic of climate change, but extreme positions on Twitter in general trigger high numbers of retweets.

To sum up, our retrospective gave some insights into general mechanisms of attention on Twitter – controversies and extreme positions fuel the debate – as well as explain attention for climate change on Twitter in 2018, which was mostly provoked by scientific and natural events, completed by political events.

Method: Our Online Media Monitor provides ongoing monitoring of the transnational online media debate on climate change by searching for related tweets. Since January 2016, the OMM collects tweets if they contain the following hashtags or key words: #climatechange OR “climate change” OR “global warming” OR “Klimawandel”. Additional criteria are that the tweets got at least 5 retweets and contain at least one link.

“Fridays for Future” – Can the next generation save our world?

by Fenja De Silva-Schmidt

Young people are often criticised as self-centred and politically disinterested. But recently, the next generation has been engaging more and more in climate politics, and their voice is getting heard – at least in media coverage.

On a public Christmas tree in Eckernförde, children and young adults hung up their wishes for the future. One tag names “preventing climate change”. (Private photo from January 2019)

One of their figureheads is 16-year-old Greta Thunberg from Sweden (link to her Twitter profile). She started striking in front of the Swedish parliament to protest against the government’s weak engagement in climate protection. By now, she is still on school strike, though only on Fridays, and has reached millions of people with her message: During COP24 in Katowice, she held a much-noticed speech in front of the UN plenary, addressing the worries of the future generation and demanding climate justice – globally and intergenerationally. “You say you love your children, and yet you are stealing their future in front of their eyes” – her accusations seem to strike a nerve. Last Thursday she spoke again on a big stage, at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

Greta’s call for a global school strike has been heard. During COP24, there were nationwide strikes in Australia against the nation’s coal-friendly policy that were featured in many news outlets during the climate conference. In Germany, the movement “Fridays for future” (link to their Twitter profile) is currently covered widely by the media. Interestingly, in the beginning the reports were mostly framed as a school and education topic or sorted in the miscellaneous category – although a strike concerning climate policy would usually be covered in the politics section, if it was carried out by grown-ups. Many of the reports deal with the question if children and teenagers should be allowed to skip school to engage in politics or not. Only recently some reports have also appeared in the politics section (probably mostly because the German economics minister Peter Altmaier now wants to talk to the protesters). The framing and the discussions about unexcused absence from classes shows that most media admire the young generation’s engagement – but do not see them as a player that needs to be taken seriously in political debates.

We will see how this develops if the strikes continue or get bigger. It would be admirable if the young people’s voices not only got heard, but also had an impact.

German pupils on strike. (c) Fridays for Future

Related links:

“Fridays for future” worldwide action: https://fridaysforfuture.de/

http://www.spiegel.de/lebenundlernen/schule/fridaysforfuture-schueler-streiken-fuer-den-klimaschutz-a-1248693.html

https://www.infranken.de/regional/nuernberg/fridays-for-future-schueler-in-nuernberg-erlangen-und-bayreuth-schwaenzen-gegen-den-klimawandel;art88523,3989916

https://www.mopo.de/hamburg/schueler-demonstrieren-fuer-klimaschutz-behoerde-droht-mit-konsequenzen-31899354

https://www.berliner-zeitung.de/politik/meinung/schuelerprotest–fridays-for-future–warum-schwaenzen-wichtig-ist-31931098

http://www.spiegel.de/wirtschaft/soziales/fridays-for-future-peter-altmaier-will-mit-streikenden-schuelern-reden-a-1249839.html

My journey towards fair open access book publishing

by Michael Brüggemann

global communication
https://unsplash.com/@Duangphorn Wiriya

As a former journalist I have always had an appreciation for the value of the written word. I have also always considered it an honour and a privilege to be published. I regarded authors to be the rightful owners of their text. In my world, you may give away texts as a present to your friends or to the scientific community or you may sell them. My idea of fair publishing did not include having to pay a private company to get published whilst losing the copyright of my work. Yet this, at least in Germany, for many years used to be the world of book publishing for many authors: some academic presses would charge for publication and appropriate the author’s copyright whilst failing to provide substantial ‘added value’ to the text such as peer review and thorough editing, proofreading and text formatting services. As a PhD student I felt I had no choice but to accept this world of predatory publishing.

Now, as a professor, in contrast to the situation of a freelance journalist, my written work is paid for by the public through my full-time employment at my University. Therefore, the public should have free access to my work. I am willing to pay for the true costs of publishing. To this day, some publishers of academic books do not provide high quality services in terms of layout, print and binding of academic books. In Germany, most publishers do not provide a peer review and some do not even provide a careful editing of academic books. The costs of the actual services provided seem much lower than the 10,000+ Euro (Dollars and sometimes even Pounds) that many commercial publishers demand for open access publishing of a book. I was particularly shocked by the terms offered even by high-ranking ‘University presses’ that also demand excessive fees from authors of open access books. I learnt that some of them are, in fact, commercial enterprises with an interest in maintaining the profitable old business model that also draws millions of Euro out of the public funds of University libraries.

I found only very few open access book publishers with moderate or no fees that also seemed to ensure a strict peer review process, and make books available online and in print in a professional way. When I searched in early 2017, I found only one publisher that provided what I consider a fair open access model that raises moderate fees only from those authors who are able to secure funds for open access publishing: Open Book Publishers, an independent and non-for-profit press created by a team of academics at Cambridge University. As they did not yet feature books in my area of research, I gathered fellow researchers to set up our own open access book series with Open Book Publishers: Global Communications. The Series focuses on the current transformations in public communication and journalism from a transnational perspective. Please find more information here.

Our book series, of course, represents only a small step in the much larger quest for alternatives to the kind of predatory publishing described above. Although the options for fair open access are limited thus far, they are continuously expanding and initiatives like ours may also motivate some commercial publishing houses to engage more in fair open access. Therefore, when you publish your next book, take the time to look at the terms of the contract you are signing and take into account that your book belongs to you, your University and the public. And no one else.

This contribution appeared in the ECREA newsletter: https://ecrea.eu/Newsletter/6947008

COP24 – Paris 2.0?! Well, no.

by Manuel Kreutle

“The Conference of the Parties,
Recalling the Paris Agreement, adopted under the Convention, 
Also recalling decisions 1/CP.21, 1/CP.22, 1/CP.23, 1/CMA.1 and 3/CMA.1, 
Further recalling decisions 6/CP.1, 6/CP.2, 25/CP.7, 5/..." [1]

This is how ‘good’ stories start these days… if we consider ‘good’ to be the mere existence of a final document. In this light, on December 15th 2018, the 196 member states (parties) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), following negotiations at the 24. Conference of the Parties (COP24) in Katowice, Poland, agreed on a compromise. Prior to the meeting, some – including UN Climate Change Executive Secretary Patricia Espinosa – held high expectations of the conference becoming a “Paris 2.0” [2], others (e.g. evironmental NGOs like) – thinking of ever-rising carbon emissions, omnipresent coal mining and the USA’s withdrawal from the international treaty – saw themselves forced to keep their feet on the ground [3]. But what was finally agreed on?

After two weeks of negotiations, the member states pledged to publish standardized reports on their national emissions and climate goals based on the “transparency framework for action and support”. The states agreed on submitting such reports starting in 2020, mentioning their country’s current emission status and its future plans (targets), biennially. This means that the first reports have to be submitted by the end of 2022. Countries will have to give specific information on some occasions (like target year(s), reference point(s), base year(s), etc.), but still have quite some space for individual layout on others (e.g. in selections of indicators to validate its targets). Following these rules will definitely be better compared to the chaos of different national targets we have now. However, we will have to wait four more years to see if we can get proper, comparable results from this.

Beyond that, nothing concrete was agreed upon in the big plenary. Regarding climate finances, “commitment of developed country Parties… to a goal of mobilizing jointly USD 100 billion per year by 2020” was “recalled”, but not futher concretized. In comparison to current international efforts (in 2016, UNFCCC funds and multilateral climate funds raised USD 2.4 billion), the 100 billion mark seems astronomically far away. Furthermore, the (itself questionable) market for international carbon emissions trading ‘rages on’ without any international regulations.
Facing the IPCC’s alarming Special Report on 1.5°C of Global Warming, the member states did not go beyond welcoming its “timely completion” without even referring to the specific reductions in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 which the report called for.

So, if we consider the 2015 Paris Agreement a great step in international climate politics, this year’s results are unfortunately no big advance. If policy makers maintain their current course, the only thing getting more “transparent” due to the new “rulebook” will be our incapacity in dealing with climate change, including rising carbon levels and missed targets. Instead of hoping for the next COP25 in Chile to come up with good climate regulations, we should remind policy makers of the urgency of this issue whenever we can. In Germany, the 1st of February 2019 will probably offer such an occasion. The “Kohlekommission” (a committee composed by representatives from politics, economy and civil society) will publish its final report giving a recommendation for a coal fade-out date. And since this will most likely not be 2020, as Earth’s climate would need it to be, we have to take action.

 

References:
[1] (Final) Proposal by President, 15 December 2018 19:27, https://unfccc.int/sites/default/files/resource/Informal%20Compilation_proposal%20by%20the%20President_rev.pdf.
[2] UN Climate Change Executive Secretary Patricia Espinosa, December 2017, “COP24 will be Paris 2.0” https://unfccc.int/news/cop24-will-be-paris-20.
[3] Maciej Martewicz and Jeremy Hodges, December 2018, “A Climate Summit in the Heart of Coal Country”, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-12-02/the-cop24-climate-summit-comes-to-poland-s-coal-capital-katowice.

First results of our new survey

by Fenja De Silva-Schmidt

During the first week of the recent COP 24 in Katowice/Poland, we reran our survey from 2015 and questioned a sample of German nationals about their climate change knowledge and attitudes. The German newspaper DIE ZEIT published an article about our first results – here is a summary for our English speaking readers:

In short, the Germans’ interest in climate change has risen: Compared to 2015, they talked about the topic more often, did more online research and more people said it was a relevant topic for them. 30 percent of the respondents named climate change as one of the two biggest problems Germany is facing at the moment (in 2015: 15%). Almost half of the Germans called themselves rather interested or very interested in climate politics (2015: 36%).

Concerning international climate politics, people have become more pessimistic than in our first survey. Only one in five Germans believes that a global agreement can help prevent dangerous climate change, when it was previously more than one in four. Only 36 percent think that the 2-degree-goal is still achievable (2015: 45%).

In consequence, more Germans are willing to participate in climate protection in their everyday lives: Almost half of them want to factor climate protection into their future food and mobility choices; many claim to do so already. One in three wants to participate in online actions for climate protection such as petitions, while one in five even wants to engage politically in an organisation to protect the climate.

 

 

Während der ersten Woche der vergangenen Klimakonferenz in Katowice/Polen haben wir unsere Befragung aus 2015 wiederholt und erneut ein Deutschland-Sample nach den Einstellungen zum und dem Wissen über den Klimawandel befragt. Eine erste Zusammenfassung der Ergebnisse gibt es bereits auf ZEIT online zu lesen.

Coal vs. goals: unfortunate choice of decoration undermines credibility of negotiations at COP24

by Joana Kollert

Efforts of the 24th Conference of the Parties (COP24) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) taking place in Katowice, Poland, between December 2nd and 14th are being overshadowed, quite literally, by a cloud of coal enveloping the conference center, which is located just 3 miles from the Wujek coal mine. Following a year of devastating climate catastrophes around the globe, and the highest global carbon dioxide levels in the past seven years, the main goal of COP24 is to finalize the implementation guidelines for the Paris Agreement concluded in 2015.

With near-universal membership, the UNFCCC boasts 184 ratifications, and its parties have met annually since 1995. Its supporters collectively follow the aim of preventing “dangerous” human interference with the climate system. The threshold of danger is anticipated at 2°C – and more recently even 1.5°C – global average temperature increase compared to Pre-Industrial Times. If all Parties were to reach their current, voluntary, national emissions reduction targets, global average temperatures are still predicted to increase by over 3°C by the end of the century. Moreover, only 17 of the 184 ratified Parties are meeting even these insufficient goals. Thus, six months after the Paris Agreement, guideline negotiations to put forward practical measures in line with the 2°C (better yet 1.5°C) target of the international treaty were initiated, and COP24 was set as the deadline. Thus, expectations are high.

As if the cloud of coal surrounding the conference center weren’t controversial enough, cages of coal “decorate” the conference facilities, and the booth for the town of Katowice proudly presents different coal souvenirs: soap made of coal, earrings made of coal. The reality remains that Poland meets 80% of its energy demand from burning the contested fossil fuel, and that three Polish coal companies sponsored COP24. Whilst the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special Report released in October argued that coal must be almost entirely phased-out by the middle of the century to avoid catastrophic climate change impacts, the Polish President Duda declared that coal is Poland’s greatest treasure, with deposits that will last 200 years. This problem exemplifies one of the largest hurdles of reducing greenhouse gas emissions: the need for a large-scale transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources, and the largely lacking economic and political will to do so.

A further testimony to the controversy surrounding climate change regulations is the French protest movement by “Les Gilets Jaunes”, which has been causing havoc in Paris for several weeks now. Protests are directed mainly at Macron’s planned (and meanwhile retracted) tax raises on diesel and fuel. Supporters of the “Gilets Jaunes” stem mainly from sub-urban, economically weaker areas. They are short of spendable income, yet they need their cars every day, such that even a small price increase in fuel and gas will significantly impact their livelihood. The economically stronger population, that often lives closer to city centers with access to public transportation and aren’t as affected by the price increases, have less incentive to complain. This divide between wealthy and less wealthy illustrates a core issue of international climate change policymaking: common but differentiated responsibilities. Why should developing countries, that are suffering more from climate change impacts than developed countries and have contributed comparatively little to present carbon dioxide levels, endure financial losses that impede their economic development?

Last, but certainly not least, with a heavy heart we must recall Trump’s decision to withdraw the US from the Paris Agreement, as well as the election of Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil. The new president not only wants to follow Trump’s (mis)leadership and withdraw from the Paris Agreement, but also boost deforestation in the Amazon rainforest.

Hopefully these rather dismal circumstances will not cause all 184 signatory Parties to lose hope, and the end of COP24 will see an effective implementation plan of the Paris Agreement.

Links:

https://unfccc.int/katowice

http://www.cop24.katowice.eu/

https://thinkprogress.org/un-climate-talks-cop24-greenwashing-coal-trump-poland-dfe0579704e7/

https://www.wired.com/story/a-global-climate-summit-is-surrounded-by-all-things-coal/

http://www.spiegel.de/wissenschaft/natur/katowice-worum-es-bei-der-uno-klimakonferenz-geht-a-1241125.html

https://www.carbonbrief.org/analysis-fossil-fuel-emissions-in-2018-increasing-at-fastest-rate-for-seven-years

“Paris 2.0”? Why we are planning to rerun our survey from 2015

by Fenja De Silva-Schmidt

During this year’s climate conference in Katowice (Poland), we are going to rerun our Down to Earth quantitative survey from December 2015. By surveying another national German quota sample three years after our initial study, we want to examine long-term effects: Did the Germans’ knowledge or attitudes towards climate politics change in the meantime? How is the summit in Poland received via the media, especially in comparison to the “milestone” conference of Paris?

Interestingly, the upcoming COP24 – taking place from December 3rd to 14th – is expected to be another important conference by international climate politicians. UN Climate Change Executive Secretary Patricia Espinosa explained the relevance of this year’s climate conference as follows: “COP21 saw the birth of the Agreement. In Poland, as I call it Paris 2.0, we will put together the pieces, directions and guidelines in order to make the framework really operate.” (UNFCCC 2017)

We will see if the conference stands up to these high expectations and if the German public experiences it as a relevant media event. Current news about the conference will be provided on its official twitter channel.

COP24 Logo

Links:

UNFCC 2017: “COP24 Will be Paris 2.0”. Available online: https://unfccc.int/news/cop24-will-be-paris-20

The Polish presidency’s agenda: http://cop24.gov.pl/key-messages/

Conference homepage: https://unfccc.int/katowice

International twitter channel: https://twitter.com/cop24

German twitter channel: https://twitter.com/UNKlima

Six theses for a constructive climate communication

Although not quite as revolutionary as Luther’s theses, our six theses for a constructive climate communication might prove a use-oriented help for communication practitioners.

In his column “On the subject” for the Deutsche Klima Konsortium (DKK), Prof. Dr. Michael Brüggemann presents six theses for a constructive climate communication. You can find the complete editorial here (in German only).

The six theses for constructive climate communication are in short:

1. We must continuously explain the fundamentals and backgrounds of climate change and climate policy.

2. We must not provide a forum for the denial of climate change.

3. Disaster scenarios can be supplemented by positive visions of a possible future.

4. We should treat people as subjects capable of acting and making decisions rather than as victims and sinners.

5. We can respect people’s values, beliefs and needs and show how climate protection aligns with these values.

6. We should link the big picture with short-term and day-to-day goals.

 

 

 

Sechs Thesen für eine konstruktive Klimakommunikation

In einem Editorial für das Deutsche Klima Konsortium (DKK) hat Prof. Dr. Michael Brüggemann sechs Empfehlungen formuliert, wie eine bessere Klima-Kommunikation mehr Menschen in ihrem Alltag erreichen und den Klimaschutz voranbringen kann.

Das komplette Editorial mit ausführlicheren Erklärungen zu den einzelnen Thesen finden Sie auf der Webseite des Deutschen Klima Konsortiums.

In der Kurzfassung lauten die sechs Thesen:

1. Wir müssen die Grundlagen und Hintergründe von Klimawandel und Klimapolitik immer wieder erklären.


2. Wir dürfen der Leugnung des Klimawandels kein Forum bieten.


3. Katastrophen-Szenarien lassen sich um positive Visionen einer möglichen Zukunft ergänzen.


4. Wir sollten die Menschen als handlungs- und entscheidungsfähige Subjekte behandeln und nicht als Opfer und Sünder.


5. Wir können die Werte, Überzeugungen und Bedürfnisse der Menschen respektieren und zeigen, wie Klimaschutz mit diesen Werten vereinbar ist.

6. Wir sollten das große Ganze mit kurzfristigen und alltagsbezogenen Zielen verknüpfen.

Workshop on Sustainable Lives: Food Choices as Politics and Lifestyle

by Radhika Mittal and Fenja De Silva-Schmidt

The Food Project is a multidisciplinary endeavor at Hamburg University, funded by KNU with seed money, bringing together collaborating researchers from various disciplines to examine the relay and utilization of a critical issue like sustainable food practices in the public sphere.

At the University of Hamburg, researchers from the disciplines of Journalism and Communication Studies, Sociology, Economics and Linguistics are engaged in conducting pilot experiments. They are joined by a researcher from the University of Graz, Austria to examine the topic within the area of Social Geography.

The project is supported by a team of external, international advisors, hailing from universities in Ireland, France, Denmark, and UK. In order to foster a discussion that facilitates the development of the pilot studies, a workshop was organized at Hamburg University between September 19 -21. The main aim was to update all participants on the state of each sub-project and garner inputs from the advisors for a way forward.

presentations
Presentation from the external advisor Lotte Holm (University of Copenhagen, Denmark).

On the first day of the workshop, the external advisors presented their own work in the realm of food and sustainability. Presentations ranged from carbon footprints of grocery shopping and the value and growth of building sustainable food sharing practices across cities to examining how people adapt their food consumption to budgetary pressures. These fed into theoretical and practical discussions that set the tone for the following day.

discussions
Enriching and informative discussions arose among the project team.

The sessions of the second day were filled with current updates from the multi-disciplinary research projects from economics, sociology, linguistics, social geography and communication studies. The topics were diverse in examining experiment designs to study attitudes and norms, the effectiveness of frames in reducing meat consumption, identity and sustainability arguments on social media, framing and metaphors in global newspapers, among others. Future plans to take forward these projects were discussed, partially with external advisors and partially through an internal meeting with all research participants.

This workshop was funded by the Fachbereich.

Is German Climate Coverage driven by extreme temperatures? Partly.

by Joana Kollert, Manuel Kreutle, and Michael Brüggemann

Recent weeks have not only brought about record-breaking temperatures, but also a rise in climate coverage, as clearly shown by our Online Media Monitor (OMM) on Climate Change Coverage around the world [1]. But are higher-than-usual temperatures really the main trigger of climate change reporting? We had a closer look at the case of Germany: climate change has recently spread from science sections onto front pages. Not only the leading intellectual weekly Die Zeit printed it on the first page; climate scientists also made headlines in the tabloid BILD, and the popular evening TV Show Anne Will raised the question of how we should act in the face of climate change. Going beyond these anecdotal observations of the last few weeks, we examined the correlation of maximum temperatures and climate change media coverage in Germany between the 2nd of August 2017 and the 6th of August 2018.

The weather data stems from different weather stations in Germany, operated by the Deutscher Wetterdienst [2]. For every day, the data from the station that measured the highest temperature was chosen. The temperature data were compared with the daily share of climate-relevant articles in three major German news outlets (Süddeutsche Zeitung, Spiegel Online, Tagesschau.de) [3]. Figure 1 shows the percentage of climate change coverage in blue and the maximum temperature in red.

The percentage of climate-relevant articles between August 2017 and August 2018 ranged from 0% on several dates to 7.4% on November 5th, 2017, with a mean of about 1.13%.

First of all, this emphasizes that even in these leading news outlets, attention for one of the biggest challenges of our time is fairly limited. Secondly, the maximum in climate-change reporting was recorded in the winter – extreme summer heat, apparently, is not the most powerful driver of coverage. Thirdly, thresholds may play a role: while journalists seem to have enjoyed the warm spring and early summer and the absence of rain without intensifying their coverage of climate change, after weeks with temperatures frequently exceeding 30 degrees, [4] the issue of a problematic drought and heat wave could no longer be ignored.

The heat: we examined the dates on which climate change-relevant articles exceeded 3.39% (twice the standard deviation). On these dates, the correlation between maximum daily temperatures and media coverage is considered to be statistically significant, i.e. linked to genuine effects or associations rather than random error or measurements in variation. Therefore, temperatures do play a role as triggers of coverage. But there are also other triggers.

Other extreme weather events: the first date of interest is the 02.09.2017, with 5.1% of the total articles published on this date related to climate change. This date marks the occurrence of Hurricane Harvey and associated strong rainfalls. Hurricane Harvey likely triggered climate change reporting because climate models indicate that the general frequency and the rainfall rates of such events will possibly increase in the future [5]. A similar but more protracted reaction can be observed on the 17th (4.4%) and 19th September 2017 (3.9%), shortly after the formation of Hurricane Maria.

Politics: on the 4th of November 2017, 5.2% of the total articles published were climate change-related. This was linked to the preparations of the United Nations climate conference COP23 and anti-coal protests in Bonn. Climate change reporting remained high (4.5-7.4%) until the 18th of November 2017, encompassing reports about COP23 and general climate change coverage triggered by the international event. The One-Planet-Climate-Summit in Paris on December 12th 2017 caused a 3.9% climate change media coverage. UN Secretary General Guterres’ speech on December 31st 2017, issuing a ‘red alter’ for planet Earth while mentioning climate change as a major threat, caused another reporting peak of 4.5%.

And again, the heat: on July 25th 2018, wildfires in Greece killed dozens of people, and resulted in 3.5% climate-change relevant articles. In Germany, temperatures already frequently exceeded 30°C at the beginning of June – considerably higher than the average June temperature of 15.7°C recorded between 1901 and 2015 [6]. At the end of July, Germany experienced temperatures over 34°C (see green line in Figure 1). This lengthy heat wave led to a sustained period of more frequent climate-relevant media coverage, with peaks on 29.07.2018 (4.3%) and 03.08.2018 (6%), and over-average media coverage in between these dates.

We can therefore infer that extreme temperatures and other weather events that are becoming more likely in times of climate change do trigger coverage, but political events like the UN climate summits still raise more short-term attention. Even with the current drought and heat wave, the problem of weather events is that their duration exceeds the attention span of media coverage, which is addicted to short-term events.

Yet, journalists are not like frogs sitting in the pot that gradually heats until it boils. At some point, they started writing about climate change – let us hope that attention for this problem is sustained even after it is has cooled down.

 

References:

[1]: https://icdc.cen.uni-hamburg.de/omm/EU.html

[2]: Free climate station data for Germany, Deutscher Wetterdienst; https://www.dwd.de/DE/leistungen/klimadatendeutschland/klimadatendeutschland.html

[3]: https://icdc.cen.uni-hamburg.de/omm/EU.html

[4]: Free climate station data for Germany, Deutscher Wetterdienst; https://www.dwd.de/DE/leistungen/klimadatendeutschland/klimadatendeutschland.html

[5]: Christensen et al.; “Climate Phenomena and their Relevance for Future Regional Climate Change” (IPCC AR5 Chapter 14); Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change; Cambridge University Press (2013)