How misinformation persuaded my neighbor, and why I chose not to “educate” him

by Fenja De Silva-Schmidt

Recently I chatted to my neighbor and we happened to stumble upon the topic of climate change. He told me: “I don’t think the earth is really heating up, big changes don’t happen so fast. This so-called warming effect is physically not plausible, even many scientists say so – I learnt about that when I followed the climate conference on YouTube.” I was surprised about many aspects of this statement – that my neighbor, a well-educated man who reads medical journals for fun, is a climate change “ignorant” or “denier”, that climate conferences are streamed on YouTube, and that denialist positions are supposedly spread there.

Further into the conversation, I understood that he was referring not to the UN climate summit, but to a “climate conference” organized by the most influential German climate change denial blog, also present on YouTube. With a quick online search, I later found that the UN climate summit is indeed also streamed on YouTube.

To deny the existence of problematic anthropogenic global warming, media users ignore common information sources, trusting in misinformation from “alternative media” instead.
Picture by Pexels / Pixabay

I then wondered: Why did my neighbor fall for the fake conference and miss the correct information that was also present on the same media channel? Communication research has lots of useful theories on these questions: part of the problem might be filter bubbles (your online search only shows results similar to what you’ve looked at before) and confirmation bias (people look for information that fortifies their precast attitudes and beliefs). In addition, videos from the COP following the meetings that last for hours are not attractive to watch (the video ranking highest in my quick search was 5:30 hours long). Thus, there is also a communication deficit on the side of the scientific community.

So what did I do in reaction to my neighbor’s revelation of his ignorance? For some time following our conversation, I kept sending him links to summaries of the scientific consensus and to information on how to identify strategic misinformation on climate change – which he politely ignored or dismissed later.

At first, I was deeply disappointed that he refused to see the truth and continued to deny the existence of climate change. But then I remembered the main reason why I think knowledge about climate change is important: because it can be necessary to act against climate change. And although my neighbor does not want to acquire this knowledge, in his actions he is already pretty climate friendly: He is a vegetarian who only uses energy-saving lightbulbs and devices. He is very good at reducing waste (we share a common rubbish bin, so I know), and when he needed a new car, he even bought one with a combination of combustion and electric engine. Although all these actions were motivated by interests other than saving the climate – i.e. saving money –, I reasoned there is no need to “educate” him on the topic. In the end, it reminded me that knowledge alone of climate change and its consequences is not enough to motivate people for climate protection – and that sometimes, there can be climate protection without knowledge.

“Yes, but-narrative in the German climate debate

by Manuel Kreutle


“Fridays for future” protest in Hamburg (wikimedia.org CC-by-sa 3.0/de; March 1, 2019)

As Fenja and Michael earlier commented, the “Fridays for Future” movement is getting more and more media coverage in Germany. The climate strike is triggering many positive, but also nasty reactions, e.g. grown-ups insulting children in commenting sections in a manner you could easily find on any schoolyard [1]. However, in the same breath they want to delegitimize the student’s protest and brand it as naive or inconsequent. Nitpicking in the manner of “they were probably driven to the demonstration with their parents’ SUV” and pointing out other apparent inconsequent behavior of protesting students can be observed all over the digital social networks.

School authorities were the first ones to publicly comment on the matter by threatening students who skip classes to participate in the strikes with monetary fines for their parents.
Lately – and this might be boosting the media coverage considerably – high-ranking politicians have also been publicly commenting on the student’s strikes. The tenor here is clear: “How nice that you care about this topic, but now go back to school!” You can observe this within the tweet of Hamburg’s senator responsible for schools, Ties Rabe (SPD) [2], or the interview of Germany’s federal minister of education, Anja Karliczek (CDU) [3], and in many other cases. All of them place the focus on the fact that students are skipping school and are therefore violating compulsory school attendance. In this sense these functionaries pursue the aim of shifting the debate from climate inaction to blaming students by reducing the political motivation of the strike to the simple wish to skip classes. Overall, this only helps in covering their own inaction. The entire debate is a simple example of the “Yes, but”-narrative one can observe within the climate debate in Germany. Let me give you more examples to illustrate the concept.

We encounter a similar situation by looking at the (not surprisingly) disappointing report of the so-called “Kohlekommission” (committee of politicians, economists and NGOs that discussed the terms of a coal fade out), where you can condense the whole matter down to: “Yes, we have to stop burning coal, but maybe within the next twenty years (2038)” [4]. The fact that this “compromise” focuses mainly on corporate interests rather than the needs of millions of people in the Global South and thousands in danger of eviction in the mining regions is tightly entangled with this narrative. We can also apply this to the whole topic of Germany’s climate policy and climate goals [5]. “Yes, climate change is a threat, but we will still not even do enough to reach our own climate goals”, is yet another form of this ambiguity leading to dangerous climate inaction.

All the examples of “Yes, but”-reactions to climate issues have in common an apparent acceptation of the urgency of climate change, but still they illustrate the insufficiency of the responses. Furthermore, these reactions demonstrate how people who want to point out the obvious shortcoming are delegitimized and offended, some of them even put into jail for drumming in support of activists. [6] The responsible actors would probably call this “democracy” and “compromise” between different interests. However, they still fail to recognize that climate change is an urgent, global issue that comes along with an immediate need of action. They ignore or even accept the fact that all the climate policy approaches taken so far are no compromise for millions of people currently living in the Global South – or for future generations all over the world.

This blogpost is part of our series about current protest movements for more climate protection – see a list of all posts here.

[1]: tagesschau.de; https://meta.tagesschau.de/id/141233/klima-demos-von-berlin-bis-sydney
[2]: Twitter; https://twitter.com/TiesRabe/status/1101407836670775296
[3]: faz.net; https://www.faz.net/aktuell/politik/inland/vor-klima-demo-in-hamburg-karliczek-pocht-auf-schulpflicht-16065462.html
[4]: zeit.de; https://www.zeit.de/politik/deutschland/2019-01/klimaschutz-kohleausstieg-kommission-reaktionen-regierung
[5]: tagesschau.de; https://www.tagesschau.de/ausland/deutschland-klimaziele-101.html
[6]: taz.de; https://taz.de/Kolumne-Gehts-noch/!5521006/

Blogpost series: Current protests for climate protection

As the protests for more political engagement in climate protection have spread to even more countries and expandend from schoolchildren protesting on “Fridays for Future” to “Scientists for Future” supporting them, we have decided to publish a series of blogposts on this social movement, its coverage in the debate and in media reporting.

This post will serve to compile a list of the blogposts related to this topic.

Part 1: “Fridays for Future” – Can the next generation save our world?, January 27, 2019

Part 2: Public protests “for future” as part of citizenship – children and scientists included, March 15, 2019

Part 3: “Yes, but“-narrative in the German climate debate, March 20, 2019

Part 4: Science for Dummies, March 20, 2019

There is also a report about the climate change protests in Boulder, Colorado (USA) on our partner blog.

Public protests “for future” as part of citizenship – children and scientists included

by Michael Brüggemann

Schoolchildren protesting during the Fridays for Future march in Bremen. (Private photo from March 15 2019)

Today, I went to the streets with my ten-year-old son. It was his first protest march, and my second. We went with his elementary school class, loudly shouting: “don’t steal our future!” And while German politicians claim that they understand the children’s concerns, they also claim, more or less implicitly, that the children do not really get the complexities of politics and should “leave it to the professionals”.

However, politicians have failed to keep their promises with regards to climate protection. Today, 23.000 “scientists for future” affirmed: the children’s concerns and anger adequately reflect both the size of the climate change problem and the associated policy failure.

The demonstrations and the scientist’s petition will not immediately change German government policy, but they have generated two groups with the chance to (re)claim political agency. The two groups could not be more different: a new generation of youths that has awoken with a political voice and will hopefully sustain its lobbying for stronger environmental policies, and a group of scientists who increasingly felt entrapped in an ideology of value-free science. The idea of the application of the scientific method regardless of one’s personal interests is sometimes misunderstood as the duty of scientists to pretend to have no personal interests and values. Yet, it is the application of scientific methods and not the scientists themselves who should be neutral. As scientists with the privilege of a more detailed insight into the issues we study, we do not only have a right, but a duty, to raise our voices if things go wrong. Going to the streets is justified, especially if warnings about the risks of a climate crisis remain unanswered by the “professionals” in government.

Sober and cautious warnings have been included in scientific reports for decades now. Yet, it turns out that politics yields to political pressure and not to scientific reports. Therefore, it is the right and duty of every citizen to increase political pressure on neglected matters of common concern.

This blogpost is part of our series about current protest movements for more climate protection – see a list of all posts here.

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

 

This blogpost is part of our series about current protest movements for more climate protection – see a list of all posts here.

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.

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

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.

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)