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

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.

“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.

Call for manuscripts – new book series “Global Communications”

Down to Earth – Publications

Dorothee Arlt, Imke Hoppe, Josephine B. Schmitt, Fenja De Silva-Schmidt & Michael Brüggemann (2018). Climate Engagement in a Digital Age: Exploring the Drivers of Participation in Climate Discourse Online in the Context of COP21. Environmental Communication, 12:1, 84-98, DOI: 10.1080/17524032.2017.1394892 –> manuscript

Michael Brüggemann, Fenja De Silva-Schmidt, Imke Hoppe, Dorothee Arlt, Josephine B. Schmitt (2017). The Appeasement Effect of a United Nations Climate Summit on the German Public. Nature Climate Change, 7, 783–787, DOI: 10.1038/nclimate3409 –> manuscript

Schmitt, Josephine B., Arlt, Dorothee, Hoppe, Imke, Schmidt, Fenja & Brüggemann, Michael (2015). UN-Klimakonferenz 2015 – Wissen, Einstellungen und Zweifel der Deutschen zum Thema Klimapolitik. CliSAP Working Paper.

Workshop: Redefining the Boundaries of Science and Journalism in the Debate on Climate Change

by Fenja De Silva-Schmidt

As a kick-off for a new research project, the research team of Prof. Michael Brüggemann organized a workshop at the University of Hamburg from June 21 to 23. The team discussed the changing roles of science and politics in times of post-normal science communication with national and international guests.

After an introduction into the debate of post-normal climate science by Hans von Storch, Stefanie Walter and Michael Brüggemann presented the planned research project. As external experts on their respective countries, Lance Bennett (University of Washington, Seattle, USA), Maxwell Boykoff (University of Colorado-Boulder, USA), Risto Kunelius (University of Tampere, Finnland), Saffron O’Neill (University of Exeter, UK), Hartmut Wessler (University of Mannheim) and Radhika Mittal (National Academy of Administration, Mussoorie, Indien) provided their feedback.

The last day of the workshop was open to the academic public. The program included a diverse mixture of presentations on different aspects of climate communication – e.g. climate change and humour, the focus on economics in the climate debate and audience perceptions of climate change around the world – and attracted many interested guests; some international participants also followed the event via Skype.

ICA conference participation and video interview

At the International Communication Associations’ annual conference, which took place in San Diego/USA this year, researchers from our team presented first results from the Down to Earth project (“Climate Engagement in a Digital Age: Exploring the Drivers of Participation in Climate Discourse Online in the Context of COP21”) as well as research on how the COP21 was reported on Twitter (“Opportunity Makes Opinion Leaders: Analyzing the Role of First-Hand Information for Opinion Leadership in Social Media Networks”).

Besides, Michael Brüggemann was invited to a spontaneous interview with the online video literary magazine GuerillaReads, who “invited ICA presenters to share their work guerrilla-style. ”

More information and all other interviews can be found on their site.