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.
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 . 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 . 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) . 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,  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 . 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 . 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.
: 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)
Review of Twitter communication on climate change in 2017: Which events triggered tweets about climate change and to which domains do these tweets link to?
The analysis of our online media monitor (OMM) reveals that the number of climate change-related tweets has risen compared to 2016. Still – and this year even more – Donald Trump’s statements and action trigger most Twitter communication on climate change. This year’s highest peaks of attention were related to climate political events in the USA. Most tweets were published on 2nd June 2017, one day after US-president Donald Trump declared that the USA will quit Paris climate agreement. The second most discussed event was Trump’s order to review Obama’s clean power plan, in which he lifted the ban on coal leases and discarded expert thinking on true cost of carbon emissions. The third event triggering climate change related tweets was the inauguration of Donald Trump as US-president. In contrast, other political events like the climate summit in Bonn received only little attention. Besides events from the political sphere, also extreme weather events like Hurricane Harvey in August and Hurricane Irma in September triggered a huge amount of climate change-related tweets. One peak of Twitter communication in August 2017 was provoked by the release of a scientific report which concludes that Americans already feel the effects of climate change. This means that also scientific events have the potential to trigger debate, although in 2017 mainly political issues seem to have caused communication. Generally, it bears mentioning that almost exclusively US-American events received a lot of attention. This is remarkable against the backdrop that the online media monitor does not only capture tweets with the hashtags or key words #climatechange or “climate change” or “global warming”, but also the German word “Klimawandel”.
We also analysed the domains climate change-related tweets link to, i.e., which sources they use. A look to the Top 10 domains reveals that most tweets link to other tweets or other content published on Twitter, e.g. photos. Apart from that, journalistic news websites are the main source of reference. Especially the British newspaper “The Guardian” plays a leading role, followed by other rather liberal and progressive outlets like the “New York Times”, “The Independent” and “Washington Post”. Interestingly, conservative news outlets only appear in the Top 20 sources of reference, e.g. Breitbart. Not only classic journalistic outlets, but also innovative journalistic websites are among the Top 10 sources, e.g. “Inside Climate News” – a Pulitzer Prize-winning, non-profit, non-partisan news organization dedicated to covering climate change, energy and the environment, or “Thinkprogress”, an editorially independent news site of the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Interestingly, also the hybrid outlet “Climatecentral” belongs to the Top 10 sources of reference. It is edited by leading scientists as well as journalists researching and reporting facts about climate change and its impact on the public.
Top 10 domains of the latest 365 days (state: 19 December 2017) that Tweets about climate change link to.
Our online media monitor (OMM) provides ongoing monitoring of the transnational online media debate on climate change by searching for related tweets. For already two years, 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.
Ein Jahr Klimawandel auf Twitter, ein Jahr Trump im Zentrum der Aufmerksamkeit?
Jahresrückblick auf die Twitter-Kommunikation zum Klimawandel 2017: Welche Ereignisse traten Tweets zum Klimawandel los und auf welche Domains verlinken diese Tweets?
Eine Analyse unseres Online Media Monitors (OMM) zeigt, dass die Zahl der Tweets zum Klimawandel im Vergleich zum Vorjahr gestiegen ist. Auch im Jahr 2017 entfachen Donald Trumps Äußerungen und Amtshandlungen größtenteils die Kommunikation. Die Jahres-Spitzenwerte korrelieren vor allem mit klimapolitischen Ereignissen in den USA. Die meisten Tweets wurden am 2. Juni 2017 abgesetzt, einen Tag, nachdem US-Präsident Donald Trump den Ausstieg aus dem Pariser Klima-Abkommen verkündete. Am zweithäufigsten wurde nach Trumps Dekret, Obamas „Clean Power Plan“ für saubere Energie zu überprüfen, getwittert. Damit kippte der neue Präsident das Verbot der Kohleförderung und strich Expertenaussagen zu den wahren Kosten der Kohle-Emissionen. Als dritter Auslöser klimabezogener Tweets sticht Donald Trumps Amtseinführung heraus. Andere politische Ereignisse wie beispielsweise der Bonner Klimagipfel erregten im Gegensatz dazu kaum Aufmerksamkeit.
Neben politischen Ereignissen triggerten Extremwetterereignisse wie die Hurrikane Harvey und Irma im August und September viele Tweets. Ebenfalls im August provozierte die Veröffentlichung eines wissenschaftlichen Berichts eine Spitzenflut an Tweets. Die Studie zeigte, dass die Amerikaner bereits Auswirkungen des Klimawandels wahrnehmen. Dies verdeutlicht, dass wissenschaftliche Ergebnisse ebenfalls Twitterdebatten anstoßen können, wenngleich politische Ereignisse überwiegen.
Insgesamt ist bemerkenswert, dass fast ausschließlich US-amerikanische Ereignisse Beachtung fanden. Dies ist vor allem interessant, wenn man berücksichtigt, dass der Online Media Monitor nicht nur Tweets mit den Hashtags „#climatechange“, „climate change” oder „global warming“ erfasst, sondern auch das deutsche Wort „Klimawandel“.
Wir untersuchten zudem, auf welche Quellen bzw. Domains die Tweets zum Klimawandel verlinken. Ein Blick auf die Top-Ten-Domains zeigt, dass das Gros der Tweets auf andere Tweets verlinkt. Abgesehen hiervon dienen journalistische Nachrichten-Webseiten als Informationsquellen. Die britische Tageszeitung Guardian nimmt dabei eine Hauptrolle ein, gefolgt von weiteren liberalen und progressiven Zeitungen wie die New York Times, TheIndependent und Washington Post.
Konservative Nachrichtenseiten wie zum Beispiel Breitbart schaffen es interessanterweise nur in die Top 20. Unter den zehn Topquellen finden sich nicht nur klassische journalistische Medien, sondern auch innovative Nachrichten-Webseiten. Darunter ist Inside Climate News, eine pulitzerpreisgekrönte, überparteiliche Non-Profit-Nachrichtenorganisation, die sich der Berichterstattung über Klimawandel, Energie und Umwelt widmet. Oder Thinkprogress, eine redaktionell unabhängige Nachrichtenseite des Center for American Progress Action Fund. Auch Climatecentral zählt zu den zehn Topquellen. Sie wird sowohl von führenden Wissenschaftlern als auch Journalisten herausgegeben, die Fakten zum Klimawandel und seinen Folgen auf die Öffentlichkeit erforschen und berichten.
Top-Ten-Domains der vergangenen 365 Tage, auf die Tweets zum Thema Klimawandel verlinken. Stand: 19. Dezember 2017.
Unser Online Media Monitor (OMM) verfolgt laufend die länderübergreifende Diskussion über den Klimawandel in Onlinemedien. Seit fast zwei Jahren sammelt der OMM Tweets, die folgende Hashtags oder Stichworte enthalten: „#climatechange“ ODER „climate change“ ODER „global warming“ ODER „Klimawandel“. Weitere Kriterien sind, dass die Tweets mindestens 5 Retweets erhalten und wenigstens einen Link aufweisen.
Der amtierende US-Präsident ist nicht der einzige, aber einer der lautesten Vertreter einer “postfaktischen” Sichtweise, die sich durch die Leugnung von Verantwortung und einen Rückzug in Subjektivität auszeichnet und in der wissenschaftliche Fakten nach Belieben zur Kenntnis genommen oder ignoriert werden können.
Zu der Frage, wie sich Wissenschaft und Medien auf diese veränderten gesellschaftlichen Rahmenbedingungen einstellen und ein “Trump-o-zän” verhindern können, hat Michael Brüggemann einen Vortrag bei der Jahrestagung 2017 des Deutschen Klima-Konsortiums (DKK) gehalten.
Eine erweiterte und aktualisierte Fassung dieses Vortrags ist nun bei klimafakten.de und auf der Seite des DKK zu lesen.
Science Communication in the “Trumpocene” – How we can prevent the post-factual age
The recent political and medial changes labeled as the dawning of “the Trumpocene, a new epoch where climate change is just a big scary conspiracy” (Graham Readfern / The Guardian) challenge science and the media to find new ways in science communication. In a presentation for the annual meeting of the German Climate Consortium (Deutsches Klima-Konsortium), Michael Brüggemann has collected suggestions how to prevent the takeover of post-factual views.
In einem aktuellen Artikel interpretiert Hanno Charisius von der Süddeutschen Zeitung die Ergebnisse des Wissenschaftsbarometers 2016 als ein „Alarmsignal für die aufgeklärte Gesellschaft“ angesichts eines starken Misstrauens gegenüber der Wissenschaft, insbesondere der Klimawissenschaft. Ein genauerer Blick auf die Originaldaten offenbart allerdings, dass diese Schlussfolgerungen kaum gerechtfertigt sind. Zudem zeigen Daten unserer eigenen aktuellen Befragung zum Thema Klimapolitik, dass die Klimawissenschaftler im Gegensatz zu Politikern und Journalisten noch auf ein stabiles Vertrauen seitens der Bevölkerung bauen dürfen.
Zunächst zum aktuellen Wissenschaftsbarometer. Zwar gibt es bei der Interpretation von Befragungsergebnissen immer einen gewissen Spielraum. Aber die von der SZ groß aufgemachte Aussage „48 Prozent der Menschen misstrauen wissenschaftlichen Aussagen zum Klimawandel“ lässt sich aus den Daten der zugrunde liegenden Studie nicht korrekt ableiten. Das Vertrauen wurde in einer Fünferskala abgefragt: von „vertraue voll und ganz“, über „vertraue“, „unentschieden“, „misstraue eher“ bis „misstraue sehr“. Wenn man die beiden äußeren Werte jeweils zusammenfasst, sind es nur 28 Prozent, die eher oder sehr den Aussagen von Wissenschaftlern zum Klimawandel misstrauen, ganze 40 Prozent hingegen vertrauen ihren Aussagen oder vertrauen ihnen sogar voll und ganz. Lediglich wenn man die 31 Prozent Unentschiedenen zu den Misstrauischen rechnet, kommt man auf einen höheren Anteil Skeptiker (allerdings auch nicht auf 48 Prozent, sondern auf 59). Es gibt aber keinen Grund die Unentschiedenen einer Seite zuzuschlagen. Wir wissen einfach nicht, was diese Gruppe genau denkt. Außerdem landen hier immer viele Antworten, da es bei Befragungen mit einer solchen Skala auch eine psychologisch erklärbare Tendenz zur Mitte gibt.
Andere Befragungen stützen gerade den umgekehrten Befund, dass die Wissenschaft von schwindendem Vertrauen im Gegensatz zu anderen Institutionen wie Politik und Journalismus weniger betroffen ist. Dafür sprechen auch aktuelle eigenen Daten, die wir im Rahmen unserer Befragungsstudie „Down to Earth“ erhoben haben. Dort wurden sehr ähnliche Aspekte abgefragt – auch mit einer Fünferskala, bei einer vergleichbar großen Stichprobe (1121 Befragte in der dritten Welle im Januar 2016, verglichen mit 1006 Befragten in der WiD-Studie aus dem Mai 2016), die ebenfalls repräsentativ quotiert wurde. Eine Veröffentlichung unserer Daten ist aktuell noch in Arbeit, aber für diesen Vergleich wollen wir bereits einen Einblick bieten.
In unserer Umfrage zeigt sich folgendes Bild: Dem Statement „Beim Thema Klimapolitik vertraue ich auf die Richtigkeit von Informationen von Klimawissenschaftlern“ stimmen 60 Prozent zu (38% „stimme eher zu“, 22% „stimme voll und ganz zu“). Nur 12 Prozent der Befragten misstrauen der Klimawissenschaft (7% „stimme eher nicht zu“, 5% „stimme überhaupt nicht zu“), 28% sind unentschlossen („teils, teils“). Die Zahlen sind also aus Sicht der Wissenschaft deutlich besser.
Unsere Studie ergänzt die Befunde der anderen Befragung um einen weiteren Aspekt, der auch die Wissenschaftsjournalisten interessieren dürfte: Anders als das Wissenschaftsbarometer haben wir nämlich auch das Vertrauen in Politiker und Medien erhoben, und im direkten Vergleich schneidet die Wissenschaft in unserer Studie sogar sehr gut ab. Beim Thema Klimapolitik vertrauen der Wissenschaft wie bereits erläutert ganze 60 Prozent der Befragten, den Medien vertrauen hingegen nur 28 Prozent und den Politikern sogar nur 21 Prozent.
So gesehen zeigt sich also eher eine Vertrauenskrise von Medien und Politik, während die Wissenschaft sogar noch zu den vertrauenswürdigeren Institutionen gehört. Wir geben also den Weckruf gerne zurück an die Süddeutsche Zeitung.
Dem Fazit, das SZ-Autor Hanno Charisius zieht, können wir trotzdem zustimmen: „Wer nicht will, dass die Öffentlichkeit das Vertrauen verliert in das, was in Labors und Denkstuben erschaffen und entdeckt wird, muss seine Türen öffnen und über seine Arbeit reden, muss gegen falsche Fakten und Betrug angehen, sich einmischen in laufende Debatten, darf sich nicht mehr verstecken.“ Genau das ist unsere Absicht mit diesem Blogpost.
“Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.” Winston Churchill
Quite a few commentators of the results of the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris (November/December 2015) have evoked this quote from Winston Churchill. It seems that, indeed, Paris marks the end of the beginning of debating anthropogenic climate change.
The world’s political leaders have acknowledged the depth and breadth of the problem and have pledged to act. It will be crucial to hold them accountable of their promises: This is a challenge primarily for journalism and civil society. It will also be a challenge for social scientists to observe and analyze this process. Yet, in our role as citizens we may not only describe and explain but also comment on this process.
The idea of the Media Watch Blog was to provide space for both: presenting an analytical view of the media coverage and the debates surrounding COP 21 through the lens of academic observers from social and climate sciences and allowing for comments in our role as citizens that we would not include in our academic publications.
I would like to thank everyone who has contributed to the blog for the great work that generated interesting insights into the debate around COP 21.
On Saturday morning the COP went past its scheduled finishing time. With successive postponements of the release of the agreement text (which what was going to be, in all likelihood, a watered down, strategically vague version of what the world needed) I found myself wondering what to do.
Having been all week at Le Bourget conference centre as an observer representing the International Environmental Communication Association, I decided to spend that day on the other side of history, the side of the citizens in the streets of Paris who defiantly organized several demonstrations to express their resolve in struggling for a better planet (eventually authorized by the police the day before).
After being prevented from exiting at my intended metro stop (“closed for security reasons”) and then forced to change plans again as buses modified their routes because of the “manifs”, I was lucky enough to walk right into the frontline of a demonstration.
I was at first curious to check how many journalists were present. There were plenty of cameras but I could only see a couple that looked to belong to professionals. I soon realized one video belonged to RTP, the Portuguese public service television. A journalist and cameraman were talking to someone I knew and I ended up being recruited to speak live at the start of one o’clock news as “an observer of the COP”. I hesitated for a bit. I had gone to the demonstrations as an anonymous citizen of a globalized world, one more body to engross the demand of respect for “red lines” (a strong activist icon at this COP), and was now pushed back into my other identity, which I thought I had left behind at Le Bourget.
I was proud to see my country’s public TV awarding much visibility to “civil society” in the stories told about climate change but worried about the kind of image of the day that was going to be constructed.
Two weeks earlier, on the 29November, the day of the Global Climate March, I had seen that same television company change their normal programming in RTP1 (their main, generalist channel) to connect live to the activists-police clash in the Place de la République in what appeared to be alarmist and sensationalist journalism coverage. There were the police shields, metal barriers and pepper spray; all the usual ingredients of a news article’s “activism-as-violence” narrative.
As many studies (and our own experience as media consumers) suggest, the “violent protest” frame often subsumes any other layers of meaning and modes of affirmation of citizenship. That media imagery is likely to impact on social representations of activism and of activists, and conduce many people to distance themselves from such practices and profiles. It may even promote disengagement with public causes and claims.
In the evening news of RTP1 on 29 November, images of hooded men had opened the coverage. President François Hollande spoke of “disturbing elements”, who were “there to create incidents, not for the climate”. Viewers were told that protesters’ confrontations with police had resulted in arrests and a few wounded people. To be fair, there was also a good amount of coverage of the marches in Portuguese cities (and worldwide), with constructive interviews of some participants. I looked at the news in other public service broadcasters such as BBC World, Deutsche Welle and France 24 and found some references but few outlets placed much emphasis on the “violent protests” (it must be noted that this comparison is not fully adequate as unlike RTP1 these are “news-only” channels and they may have changed their reporting throughout the day).
Back to last Saturday: As I walked with RTP’s crew ahead of the demonstration, I kept wondering about the thought process behind the symbolic construction of the footage of protesters that occurs at different levels of the journalistic and editorial hierarchy within the public service broadcaster. I also thought about what I was going to say and what persona I was going to take up in the screens of one of the biggest channels back in Portugal. There was the “me, the citizen” that was frustrated and had political claims to make. But that was not what the journalist wanted me to speak as. There was the “the academic” side of me that could make a “cooler” analysis of the situation. But an analysis of what? I am a communications scholar and that was not what the journalist wanted me to speak as/about. She wanted me to talk about the agreement. So the “the observer” side of me kept thinking about the observer communities back at the COP and what they thought about draft versions of the agreement.
The UNFCCC awards observer status to multiple types of organizations: business and industry non-governmental organizations (BINGOs), environmental non-governmental organizations (ENGOs), local government and municipal authorities (LGMAs), indigenous peoples organizations (IPOs), research and independent non-governmental organizations (RINGOs), trade union non-governmental organizations (TUNGOs), farmers and agricultural non-governmental organizations (Farmers), women and gender non-governmental organizations (Women and Gender) and youth non-governmental organizations (YOUNGOs). The nine UNFCCC “constituencies” have, obviously, widely diverse views in many regards. Plus, each of them is a loose group of actors with multiple perspectives and preferred discourses. Furthermore, observers to the COP are not the same as observers to elections: they are there to try to influence the outcome in one way or the other even though they are given very little voice in the process.
I had gone to side events and press conferences by different types of observers throughout the COP and heard the frustration of many of them towards the emerging text. However, as I wrote in another blog post, RINGOs (the constituency I was part of through IECA), were supposedly not advocating a particular outcome, a non-position that makes me wonder whether all of its members identify with it.
Coming back to my live interview, I didn’t have long to reflect upon which observer identity to take up. The microphone was in front of me for a predictably short time after references to a “report” of a girl “beaten up” by the police (which the journalist did not appear to be well informed about) and to the police helicopter up in the air. I ended up sounding more like the academic than a citizen but inserted cautionary “observer” points just before the helicopter was mentioned again.
That evening I watched France24 for several hours, anticipating the celebratory, triumphalist tone and the symbolic dividends that France was going for.
There was nothing about the large, peaceful demonstrations that had taken place a few hours earlier. Looking at the websites of other public broadcasters the story was pretty much the same.
COP21 in Paris ended on Saturday night with a global pact to reduce emissions and keep global warming below two degrees.
It was the first time that all 196 participating countries agreed on such a deal and as such now is a good time to reflect on the eventful two weeks.
While it is too early to be enthusiastic, from my perspective the Paris agreement is an important and essential step in the right direction. Many scientists see the agreement as a surprising success but they leave to us whether this “historic achievement” (Lord Stern) will be a binding contract for the future. For that to occur, at least 55 parties which produce over 55% of the world’s greenhouse gasses, must become party to the agreement.
This post will examine possible directions the debate will shift in the coming years. I will analyse and critically reflect on media coverage from COP21 and focus on public attention over time, based on data from Google Trends. Google Trends is a public web facility that provides information how often a specific search-term is entered into the Google search screen relative to total search-volume. The data is presented as a score between 0 and 100.
Google Trends cannot present an absolute number of queries but the search interest could be seen as an indicator for public attention on different topics or terms. However we should interpret the data carefully and should use the tool more like a starting point for research in the field of communication science.
Figure 1 (below) shows the search interest for the term Climate change over the past three years.
We can see some ups and down in 2013 and 2014 but overall the attention stays at a low level. On the right end of the figure, with the start of the COP21, the search interest reaches its maximum. We can therefore reasonable assume that the conference in Paris had a big influence on the public interest about climate change. If we look back on the past climate conferences in Warsaw (11.11-23.11.2013) or Lima (01.12-12.12.2014) we cannot see any attention peaks. Here we can ask, for example, if the public agenda is more affected by the event itself or the media coverage which usually increases during the events? Further, we should look at what other factors influence Google Trends? Figure 2 shows a comparison for the search terms Climate change and Paris agreement for the last seven days.
We can observe a rise of the search-interest for both terms in the crucial period of the conference. The public started to google Paris agreement with the beginning of the last day of the conference just after the participants defined this term and also after the announcement that an agreement between the participating countries is realistic. These developments also affected the public attention for climate change in general. The decreasing search interest at the end of the conference could be explained with the issue attention cycle. Climate change will be replaced at the center of public awareness by different issues like the conflict in Syria or the refugee crisis.
When 196 nations met in Paris for COP21, the event naturally attracted global attention. It also fostered transnational debates on Twitter.
The Internet and more specifically social media enable many-to-many communication without the limitations of physically doing so, e.g having to convene in one geographical location. I wanted to find out the extent to which COP21 had “gone global” on Twitter. Besides this rather specific question, I was also interested in the general impact of COP21 on Twitter.
Over the last two weeks, I tracked all tweets containing the keyword ‘COP21’ in their text. In total I captured 4’505’988. In terms of tweet volume it was a good start for the conference. On Monday the volume reached a first peak of more than 55’000 tweets in one hour (see Fig. 1). Twitter extra created new emojis for the Paris Climate Conference: Whenever a user used the hashtag #COP21 the logo was automatically shown in the tweet.
@twitter has created new emojis to mark the beginning of the UN Climate Conference in Paris. #COP21
Fig. 1: Tweet volume per hour of tweets containing ‘cop21’.
During the first week the tweet volume went down compared to prior to the conference. In the second week the tweet volume was almost as low as pre-conference levels. However, on Saturday with the announcement of the Paris agreement, Twitter exploded again more than 65’000 Tweets in one hour.
Two weeks between #climatemarch and #parisagreement
With such a large data set, many aspects can be analysed. As Warren Pearce has shown in his blog post, a typical analysis can focus on the hashtags being used in tweets. As a first step, I also focused on hashtags contained in tweets, but I was ranking them based on the number of unique users who used the hashtag. The number of times a hashtag appears in a tweet can sometimes be misleading, because a hashtag might be only used by a few bots (machine controlled accounts) that constantly tweet. Not surprisingly #cop21 was the most used hashtag before #climatechange and #climate (see Fig. 2).
Fig. 2: Hashtag word cloud. The larger the hashtag, the more unique users have used it during the last 2 weeks. #COP21 as the most popular hashtag has been removed.
We can see above that #parisagreement and #climatemarch were used by a large number of users. Therefore, the next step in my analysis was to see when these hashtags were used.
Fig. 3: Hashtag volume per hour for the most used hashtags. #COP21 was excluded.
On the one hand the hashtag #climatemarch was popular on 29. November just one day before the start of the conference in Paris (see Fig. 3). On that day the NGO AVAAZ organized a global climate march in many cities around the world in order to put pressure on leaders before the start of the conference. Only on that day the hashtag was trending.
On the other hand #parisagreement was popular on 12 December when the first draft of the agreement was published and peaked after the announcement of the final agreement at the end of the conference.
Automatic replies from a bot
Overall most tweets were retweets (63.7%) followed by single tweets (29.7%) and replies (6.6%). Only in the first week during specific hours replies had a higher volume than single tweets and retweets (see Fig. 4). On closer examination it becomes evident that most replies were sent from @COP21Direct an account extra created for a Twitter campaign: If enough users per day use #COP21 in their tweets a 3D printer in Paris would print the logo of COP21.
@COP21Direct sent automatic replies with a link to the video stream covering the printing process to all users that used the hashtag. Every day the printing process could be observed over a live stream.
From space we are privileged to see the beauty of Earth but also our impact on it’s environment. #COP21#YearInSpace
The second most retweeted was from a Japanese journalist who took a picture of a public ad in Paris:
Some users quickly questioned if it is an official poster of www.solutionsCOP21.org, but the journalist thought it is a legit one, because it has the official logo of COP21 in the upper left corner. A user finally directs him to the webpage of Brandalism: artists in Paris used fake ads to protest against the corporate sponsorship of COP21.
Artists In Paris Use Fake Ads “Brandalism” To Protest Corporate Sponsorship Of #COP21
Thanks to Twitter this local protest even reached the Japanese Twitter sphere.
COP21 as global event on Twitter
The analysis of the retweets already exemplifies the potential of Twitter to connect users around the world. In a next step I focused on the geo location of the users. The location of a user can possibly be determined with geo tags, but only few users are using them. In my data set only 0.1% of all Tweets contained a geo tag. Still, the location field in user accounts can be used to identify the exact location of a user. Users can freely choose what text they want to enter in this field. For every unique user (937’613) in the data set text from the location field was compared with a data base of cities and countries. For 34% of all users the coordinates could be identified with this method (See Fig 4.).
Fig. 4: The denser the colour, the more users are from the same city or country.
The analysis shows that users from all around the world tweeted about COP21. Around 16% of the users were identified from the USA, 15% from France and around 9% from the UK. Users from India (3%) were also well represented. Overall users from almost 200 different countries could be identified.
The same can be observed with the language of the tweets. Twitter automatically detects the language of a Tweet. Around 52% of Tweets are in English, 27% in French, 10% in Spanish and around 2% in Japanese.
First of all, Twitter typically reflects the real world events around COP21. The hashtags clearly indicated when the climate march took place and when the Paris agreement was finally reached. Secondly, during the event many different methods of digital campaigning were used such as live streams, flooding twitter with the help of bot accounts and online campaign pages asking users to send a tweet to leaders. Thirdly, COP21 is also a global Twitter event: Users from all around the world were tweeting about COP21. Nowadays it is even possible to send Tweets from outer space back to earth.
 The data collection, analysis and visualization in this blog post were all done in R.
 In my data set this was the case with #sassousi, a hashtag in reference to the Congolese president Denis Sassou Nguesso. The hashtag has been used 56’206 times by only 319 users. A good example of such a bot account is @JeVoteNon.
 The low number of replies in the data set can be explained with the sampling process. Tweets about cop21 often attracted replies but users writing replies usually did not mention cop21 again in their replies because the topic of the conversation was already clear. The same holds true for hashtags. Users use less frequent hashtags in their replies than in single tweets.
 This analysis is based on a modified version of code from Jeff Leek: http://biostat.jhsph.edu/~jleek/code/twitterMap.R
WWF Indonesia for example created a page that helps to automatically generate a tweet in which a user can address a global leader. Such a page might be used for a good cause but it is a questionable practice an falls into the category of digital astroturfing.
It has become accepted wisdom here that Paris 2015 is not Copenhagen 2009. This time, the US and China are on board; the price of renewables has dropped by more than half; the vast majority of countries have already pledged emission cuts and Paris is seen as a “staging post”, rather than a final destination.
But in one way at least, Paris 2015 is a re-run of 2009 Copenhagen. There are a staggering 3,700 ‘media representatives’ accredited in attendance, which is just short of the 4,000 (from 119 countries) present at Copenhagen.
This makes these summits some of the most reported political events to take place globally. Some say that only the World Cup and Olympics attract more journalists.
The sheer volume of content which is produced on an array of platforms offers rich pickings for media scholars.
But the revolution – even since Copenhagen – in the way journalists (paid or otherwise) produce news, the content of that news, and how that news is consumed throws up significant research challenges.
Here are five issues I have been pondering while also following media reporting of the summit. Some of them have already been discussed in previous posts, and there are of course many more, nonetheless:
Changes in consumption: this year’s Digital News Report from the Reuters Institute, based on interviews with 23,000 online users in 12 countries, clearly maps the rapid change in how people, and particularly those under 35, consume news. The smartphone has risen rapidly in most countries as the defining device for digital news with a disruptive impact on consumption, formats, and business models.
Then you have to throw in the rapid rise of video content, the role of social media like Twitter and Facebook in finding, discussing and sharing news, and the decline of print, and we have a very different media world from that of Copenhagen just six years ago. Print is now the main source of news for only between 6% and 12% of those surveyed, depending on the age group. For how long should we bother with print?
The arrival of new(-ish) players: the Digital News Report also charts the rapid rise of ‘digital natives’, based on social and mobile distribution. In the English-speaking world at least, Huffington Post, BuzzFeed and Vice are now significant competitors to legacy media brands, particularly for younger age groups. And they are investing heavily in other languages and their news gathering capacity.
All three cover the environment and climate change extensively, but in different ways. HuffPo relies extensively on blogposts, Vice on ‘personal narration’ video, and BuzzFeed on a mix of listicles, quizzes, photo galleries and irreverent content.
One challenge for researchers is how to analyse their content, when all of it is sent out via social media and is difficult to pin down via traditional search engines. Another is to assess whether these new sites verge into campaigning or advocacy journalism.
The increase in niche sites: Another major development since Copenhagen is the proliferation of niche sites on the climate or green issues, which have a profound influence over legacy media as a source and agenda-setter.
The list is extensive, but in the UK there is Carbon Brief, Business Green, Climate Home, the Energy and Climate Change Intelligence Unit (ECIU), some of them lead by former mainstream journalists. There are several in the USA, and many other countries have their equivalents.
For the journalist, campaigner, and climate change aficionado, these are invaluable sources of information. The decline of specialist journalism in some countries’ legacy media may in some sense have been compensated by the boom in such sites.
New narratives: Have the dominant narratives or frames around climate changed, and if so how? A very impressionistic take on coverage from Paris suggests that there are significantly more stories about renewables, new technologies, and business opportunities.
Such stories are one indication of how media narratives about climate change may be becoming more about hope and opportunity, and less about the more traditional doom and gloom.
In part, this may be due to a realization that the transition to a low-carbon economy is inevitable, even though the pace of it is uncertain.
But for some media organisations like the Guardian, more messages of hope form part of a deliberate editorial policy driven in part by readers’ wishes.
Sceptics and polarization: An obsession of mine I know, but one trend I am interested in is whether we have seen a polarization in the media along political lines in their editorial approach to giving presence to sceptics. It is probably true in the UK, but it may be true of the USA and Australia too.
These and other issues will be addressed in a new project the Reuters Institute is coordinating in six countries about the way new players like BuzzFeed, Vice and Huffington Post are covering environmental news. This includes climate change and the Paris summit – and how these relative newcomers differ from legacy players.
It should provide some insight into the ways the media landscape at Paris 2015 is indeed not that of Copenhagen 2009.