The Medias role in the acknowledgment of the problematic of the environmental crisis

“Climate change is one of the most serious challenges to society (Höijer, 2010, p. 717)”. Ten years ago, the IPCC of the United Nations declared, that in the last ten decades, the increase of temperature on earth is at 0,74° (Höijer, 2010, p. 717). Risks that are identified by world-wide scientific communities include “heavy rains, floods and storms, rising sea-water level, forest fires, fatal heat waves, noxious insects, microbial and fungal diseases, and effects on vegetation and animal life (Höijer, 2010, p. 717).” During the last decade, climate change came into the focus of society through the rising media coverage (Höijer cited Boykoff, 2010, p.717). However, the coverage of climate change varies in different countries (Barkemeyer, et al., 2017, p. 1034). “The environment beat is a relatively new journalistic field, having emerged in the 1960s, when growing awareness of social and environmental issues spurred the start of the environment movement (Bourassa, et al., 2013).” 

This Document is about how the environmental crisis is covered by the media around the world, takes a look at how the topic is convicted and which role a countries status plays in the way the climate change is handled in their news media. Additionally, it takes a short look at the influence of sceptical voices. It also handles the stylistic patterns used in reporting, and the role of social media concerning the topic climate change. The main statement is that Media plays a crucial role in the acknowledgement of the problematic of the environmental crisis. 

Reporting on the environmental crisis in different countries 

When observing the reporting on climate change in various countries, it is possible to see that “climate change has become headline news in some countries but has received comparatively little coverage in others (Barkemeyer, et al., 2017, p. 1029)” which has an influence on the public’s awareness of the topic. 

It appears, that climate change moved beyond being an issue only to rich countries (Barkemeyer, et al., 2017, p. 1029). A Study by Barkemeyer, Figge, Hoepner, Holt, Kraak and Yu has shown, that the 

“quality of a country’s regulatory regime is positively related to levels of media coverage of climate change” and that the “Country-specific unemployment trends are negatively related to levels of media attention to climate change (2017, pp. 1044-1045).” This means, that if the regulatory regime of a country is of higher quality, the climate change is more likely to be a topic in their news and being reported on more frequently. Also, higher unemployment rates are a negative factor. This factor seems to crowd out climate change as a top-class issue in newspapers (Barkemeyer, et al., 2017, p. 1037). However, neither the degree of how high the risk of climate change related threats is in a country, nor the policy efficacy concerning climate change, are related to the degree of media attention to it. Also, the religious denominations seem to have small but no significant influence on the coverage the environmental crisis (Barkemeyer, et al., 2017, p. 1046).  Based on the findings of a study by McCombs and Shaw, Mass media influences the publics opinion but also matches it to its audience’s interest (1972, pp. 186-187). The study also showed that that if a topic is covered in the media more frequently, the public regards it as more important which in this case means, that climate change appears as a more important topic to those societies, in which countries news report on the issue more often. 

The attention on climate change in different countries varied during decades (Holt & Backemeyer, 2012, pp. 14-15). Downs theorizes an issue-attention cycle, that influences public attitude and behaviour (Holt & Barkemeyer cited Downs, 2012, p.6-7). Downs explains, that a problem, that is covered by the media, goes through five stages based on the public’s interest and concern. The first stage is the Pre-problem, in which the undesirable condition is without a lot of public attention. Stage two is the alarmed discovery or the euphoric enthusiasm, which is the result of dramatic events of which the public becomes aware. The third stage is the realization of the costs that are acquired to solve the problem. This includes financial costs as well as personal sacrifices. In stage four, the intense interest of the public gradually declines though the wide spreading acceptance of difficulty and costs. The last stage is the post-problem phase in which the interest in the topic falls to a low stage again (Holt & Barkemeyer cited Downs, 2012, p.6-7). This cycle has been considered as applicable to the  

coverage of the environmental crisis in news media (Holt & Barkemeyer cited Dunlap, McComas and Shanahan, 2012, p.6). However, Reiner Grundmann and Mike Scott (2012, p. 232) argue, that the real rise of the climate discourse only began after 2005. This is because of the abrupt growth of attention the topic experienced in the very same year, which is claimed by Grundmann and Scott “attributed to several high-profile interventions from advocates of ambitious climate policies (2012, p. 227)” in 2005. “When elites have consensus, the public follows suit and the issue becomes mainstreamed.  

When elites disagree, polarization occurs, and citizens rely on other indicators (…) to make up their minds (Grundmann & Scott cited Brulle, Carmichael, and Jenkins 2010, p. 233)”. If a certain topic is addressed by the countries elites, the public regards it as important and the topic becomes mainstream. If elites disagree on that certain topic, society gets polarized and the citizens rely on other sources like political parties or the credibility of the sources to make their opinion. The news media contributes as one of these sources to the public sphere. The phenomenon especially seems to apply to the coverage of the climate change in the USA and is a possible explanation for the low salience on US`s political agenda (Grundmann & Scott, 2012, p. 226). Additionally, in the United States sceptical voices have an additional influence (Grundmann & Scott, 2012, p. 226). 

Influence of sceptical voices 

Grundmann and Scott point out, that in general, in news reporting concerning the climate change, advocates dominate over sceptical voices (2012, p. 226). This is, based on their study, at least the case in the United States of America, in France, Germany and the United Kingdom. However, the “US press gives nine times more attention to sceptical voices compared to Germany, and four times more than the UK (Grundmann & Scott, 2012, p. 226)”. Anyhow, the scepticism on climate change in the United States has a long tradition (Schmid-Perti, et al., 2015, p. 498). In comparison to before though,  

the “manner in which the scepticism is expressed in US print media has changed (…) (Schmid-Perti, et al., 2015, p. 508)”. While former coverage was dominated by the denial of the existence of global  

warming and its causes, todays claims focus on needed or unneeded actions to fight climate change (Schmid-Perti, et al., 2015, p. 508). This form of scepticism is dangerous since it is not easily identifiable as such at first sight (Schmid-Perti, et al., 2015, p. 509). To stop climate change, action needs to be taken immediately and the media giving sceptics a platform to legitimate their claims, could “contribute to the failure to ratify international agreements and hinder the implementation of a national climate change policy in the United States” (Schmid-Perti, et al., 2015, p. 509)”.  

In comparison to the United States and India and Australia, however, an analysis study by Metag, Füchslin and Schäfer, showed that “the German population has the biggest group of Alarmed people (…) (Metag, et al., 2015, p. 446)”. The alarmed public seeks for clues in the mass media and speaks about climate change more generally, while doubtful members of the society seek for less information on this issue (Metag, et al., 2015, p. 446). 

Beside mainstream media, Climate change denial books as a source for information on the topic, influence opinions on climate change. The books make scientifically inaccurate claims which are “amplified in conservative media and the blogsphere, potentially reaching significant segments of the general public (Dunlap & Jacques, 2013, p. 713).” Regardless of the medium however, the disproportionate coverage of sceptical claims in mass media can lead to the questioning of taking actions against climate change (Boykoff, 2013, p. 811).  

Stylistics in the coverage of climate change 

As Metag, Füchslin and Schäfers claim in their study, informed, concerned and cautious groups of the society have to be addressed differently than doubtful, disengaged or dismissive groups (2015, p. 448).  

Science communication in general is expressed with certain stylistic patterns which serve to enhance the newsworthiness of for example the topic climate change (Molek-Kozakowska, 2017, p. 69).  

To engage readers in general, most news outlets try to present the topic as unheard of or surprising with for example new discoveries (Molek-Kozakowska, 2017, p. 76).  

Another stylistic pattern are the superlative, comparatives or quantifiers (Molek-Kozakowska, 2017, p. 77). The third most found pattern is the factor of lacking time to solve a problem and the impact the problem, for example climate change, has (Molek-Kozakowska, 2017, p. 78). Problematic in this context is that “climate change (…) as a phenomenon (…) lacks the required immediacy, and thus salience, for promoting action (Hanson-Easey, et al., 2015, p. 233). The last stylistic pattern Molek-Kosakowska found was the evaluation of positivity and negativity that is used instead of neutrality to engage the readers (2017, p. 79). 

One other possibility to comment on climate change while entertaining the audience is satire (Kalviknes Bore & Reid, 2014, p. 454). The benefit of the usage of satire on the topic of climate change is, that it can promote engagement and give a positive side to climate change instead of just work with shocking representations (Kalviknes Bore & Reid, 2014, pp. 463-468). This means that through satire in the media, the problematic of climate change and the active and positive engagement with it, can communicated. 

The Role of the Internet and Social media  

Additionally, to the traditional forms of print media and the television format, Social media platforms and the Internet in general are important new ways to change politics and the political economy concerning the conversation about nature (Bücher, 2014, p. 726) and to engage the public in a discussion about climate change. An analysis by Veltri and Atanasova showed that the four thematic arrays concerning climate change in posts on the social media platform twitter are “calls for action and awareness of climate change, its consequences and causes, and the policy debate about climate change and energy (2015, p. 732).” People’s attention towards pro-environmental messages is linked  

with their perception of others attention and believing in similar messages (Liao, et al., 2015, p. 55), which means that the connection to others through social media is a possibility to spread to knowledge  

about the problematic concerning climate change.  

As Kalviknes Bore & Reid already determine, satire can help to create a positive engagement with climate change. “Conflict in online discussions of science has the potential to polarize individuals’ perceptions of science (Anderson & Huntington, 2017, p. 598)”. The discussions about climate change, may be susceptible to the use of sarcasm (Anderson & Huntington, 2017, p. 600). On twitter for example, concerning climate change, sarcasm is often used to express a negative thing in a positive term (Anderson & Huntington cited Kunneman et al., 2014; Riloff et al., 2013, p.602). This means, that not only print media or shows can use sarcasm to engange their audience in the topic of climate change, but also it can also made use of this stylistic in online media channels to engage the audience.  

Conclusion 

While climate change moved beyond being an issue to rich countries (Holt & Backemeyer, 2012, p. 1029), with higher quality of a regulatory regime in a country, and lower unemployment rates, it is more likely to find climate change as a topic that is frequently covered in their news (Barkemeyer, et al., 2017, pp. 1044-1045). Based on the findings of the study by McCombs and Shaw, Mass media influence the publics opinion but also matches it to their audience’s interest (1972, pp. 186-187). In this case their findings show, that climate change appears as a more important topic to those societies, in which countries news report on the issue more often. 

Climate change scepticism is handled different in different countries. Giving the sceptics a platform to engage with the audience however, could “contribute to the failure to ratify international agreements and hinder the implementation of a national climate  

change policy (…) (Schmid-Perti, et al., 2015, p. 509)”. The alarmed public seeks for clues in the mass media and speaks about climate change more generally, while doubtful members of the society seek for less information on this issue (Metag, et al., 2015, p. 446). Therefore, the media has to find a way to engage especially these group of the society in the topic og climate change. This could, for example be done through satire, through which the problematic of climate change and the active and positive engagement with it, can be communicated. “Fair, precise, and accurate media coverage of climate science and politics will not be the panacea for challenges associated with anthropogenic climate change (Boykoff, 2013, p. 811)”. However, the media plays an important role in “framing the scientific, economic, social and political dimensions through giving voice to some viewpoints while suppressing others, and legitimating certain truth-claims as reasonable and credible (Anderson, 2009, p. 166).” 

Unfortunately, media firms seek to expand profits in the expanding ecosystem which is why Journalists are challenged with covering climate change in a profitable context to bring it in front of the audience (Gibson, et al., 2015, p. 429). It was failed to connect on a personal level with the audience (Happer & Philo, 2015). Nonetheless, the public’s recognition of a problem is the first step in creating a policy to address it (Saphiro & Park, 2014). 

Bibliography 

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Anderson, A. A. & Huntington, H. E., 2017. Social Media, Science, and Attack Discourse: How Twitter Discussions of Climate Change Use Sarcasm and Incivility. Science Communication, Issue 39(5), pp. 598-620. 

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Boykoff, M. T., 2013. Public Enemy No. 1? Understanding Media Representations of Outlier Views on Climate Change. American Behavioral Scientist, Issue 57(6), pp. 796-817. 

Bücher, B., 2014. Nature 2.0: Exploring and theorizing the links between new media and nature conservation. new media & society, Issue 18(5), pp. 726-743. 

Dunlap, R. E. & Jacques, P. J., 2013. Climate Change Denial Books and Conservative Think Tanks: Exploring the Connection. American Behavioral Scientist, Issue 57(6), pp. 699-731. 

Gibson, T. A., Craig, R. T., Harper, A. C. & Alpert, J. M., 2015. Covering global warming in dubious times: Environmental reporters in the new media ecosystem. Journalism, Issue 17(4), pp. 417-434. 

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Metag, J., Füchslin, T. & Schäfer, M. S., 2015. Global warming’s five Germanys: A typology of Germans’ views on climate change and patterns of media use and information. Public Understanding of Science, Issue 26(4), pp. 434-451. 

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Civil Society, Austerity & Europe in the modern world

In Germany, the civil society organisation Campact is opposing TTIP, the controversial trading agreement between the European Union and the United States. With Demonstrations, petitions and other actions, this Organization attempts to influence and stop the negotiations on the trade agreement and tries to gather supporters through elucidating the problems surrounding TTIP to the German citizens. 

“Civil Society is a modern concept although (…) it can be traced back to Aristotle” (Mary Kaldor, 2003). While the term changed during the decades, it remained a core meaning: A civil society is an on a social contract basing society, through which individuals are able to act publicly (Mary Kaldor, 2003). 

Over the past decades, many civil society organisations were founded, that attempt to represent and stand up for the Civil Societies interests. Civil society organisations are separated from the market, have a specific, organizational identity and altruism respectively moral highground (Rooy, 2004). They play an important role in today’s politics and society and motivate “individuals to act as citizens in all aspects of society rather than bowing to or depending on state power and beneficence” (Rooy, 2004). 

The German civil society organisation Campact located in Berlin, Germany, has set itself the goal of giving people the opportunity to become politically active over the Internet. They take action through online petitions which are send to political decision makers, and demonstrations and focus on environmental topics and trade agreements. The Organization was founded by Christoph Bautz and Günter Metzges in 2004 and is financed through donations and contributions (Campact, a)). 

Campact as an Organization started off with a campaign for more transparency at the side incidents of politicians in 2005 and a big demonstration against GMO in 2006. These actions were followed by a vary political decisions like the publishing obligation for additional income from politicians and the ban on GM Corn, Campact claims to be responsible for (Campact, 2017).  

From 2009 on, the Organization also participated in the demonstrations against nuclear power and made the climate protection a concern for themselves (Campact, 2017).  

In 2010, with 77.000 E-mails, Campact activists showed their protest concerning cutting budget for the energetic building renovation. The organization claims that these E-mails were the reason for the committee to increase the budget with additional 400 million Euro instead of cutting it. This action was the first one on climate protection, Campact regards as a major success (Campact, 2010). 

In the following years, the Organization focused on the trading agreements and on climate protection.  

The structure of Campact is like most other CSOs, a horizontal one. Though, there is a hierarchy in Campact. It consists of the Board of Directors and the team leaders, who are in charge of another small group of people. Nevertheless, the fact that the organization only employs around 47 people and the departments are communicating and working together to manage the organization, nearly everyone is equally involved in the organizations business (Campact, a)).  

The Board of Directors consists of 3 people, Christoph Bautz, Daphne Heinsen and Dr. Felix Kolb who lead the Organization. Subsidiary to these, team leaders are in charge of the different divisions of Campact. 

The Organization like many other civil society groups, employs campaigners who are in charge of planning campaign work and contribute to campaign strategies and projects. Also, the CSO has a department of campaigners for their online petition forum, who are only responsible for the campaigns that concern the forum WeAct (Campact, a)).  

Though the fact that campaign mainly works online, the organization has a vary of different positions surrounding their online presence. There are people in charge of Campacts different social media platforms and additional staff who work as editors for the Newsletter and website (Campact, a)). 

Most of the employees at Campact are in charge of organizing and campaigning. Still, though the fact that the organization is growing and requires increasing maintenance within its own structure, the organization employs a range of technicians and accountants (Campact, a)). 

Besides all these positions, which are inherited by salaried employees, Campact has an undefined number of volunteer workers, who support the organization at campaigns and petitions. 

Campact influences current political topics with the help of online petitions and demonstrations. The Organization confides politicians with the collected signatures and organizes demonstrations and actions that are aimed at increasing the media coverage of a given topic. With the help of studies by various experts and easy to understand explanatory videos, people are brought closer to the given topic (Campact, 2016). 

The Organization has a vary of online petitions on their website. These provide information on the topic itself, the demands of Campact and the campaign partners. The petition shows a signature goal, requires name, address and E-mail address of the signing and will be send to decision-making politicians or responsible company CEO (Campact, b)). 

Campact starts campaigns when issues get on the political agenda and decisions are in the balance (Campact, 2016). Since Campact has not committed itself to a specific topic, the organization regularly makes alliances and cooperates with other organizations. 

To start a new campaign, the organization is conducting a study though mail, with at least 1000 newsletter subscribers on how they find the topic in question. Based on this survey, a team advises on the topic and submits it to the board, which then decides on the start of a campaign. This decision is also influenced by partner organizations and their advice. Followed by this decision, the team of campaigners develops the demands and strategies for the campaign (Campact, 2015). 

The transatlantic trade and investment partnership 

The transatlantic trade and investment partnership is a trading contract between the European Union and the United States of America. The negotiations around the agreement started in 2013 and are currently on hold. TTIP got under critique because of its lack of transparency and especially because of the special suit rights of corporations which gives corporations the right to sue a state based on the lost profit that is estimated due to a certain law that limits the companies’ ability to trade. Besides this, the trade agreement could also influence the import restrictions on certain goods like genetic modified food or products that are currently banned in Europe based on the amount of certain chemicals in it (Finnegan, 2017). 

Campact is the opinion that TTIP undermines the rule of law and democracy in general. Through the fact that the agreement allows foreign companies to sue countries for compensations as high as their estimated profit that is lost due to a certain law, states could be driven to ruin. Based on another trade agreement, the company Vattenfall is already suing Germany for 4,7 Billion euro, because of the Atomausstieg (Campact, b)). 

On their website, the CSO claims, that TTIP even endangers the health of the population. Certain Practices that are legal in the US would probably be permitted in the EU to prevent US companies from suing states with other laws which influence the company’s profit (Campact, b)).  

One example in this case is the environmental-damaging oil production method Hydraulic Fracturing, or for short, “Fracking”. This method uses water, sand and chemicals to frack porous rock and release enclosed natural gas from the deep layers inside the earth. Around 8 million litres of water are used in one round. This corresponds approximately the water consumption of 65.000 people in one day. Additionally, around 200.000 Litres of chemicals and several tons of sand are used each time. The main problem with this method is, that the chemicals compress the water, dissolve minerals and even remain in the leftover fluid that remains in the earth after the process is finished and the drilling hole is sealed. This can contaminate the drinking water which can’t be decontaminated again (Kurzgesagt – In a Nutshell, 2013). 

A vary of Documentations already covered the health damaging effects on the US population that emerge through the ground water contamination1

Since Fracking is a common method in the US, companies could sue Germany based on a law that would ban fracking in the country. 

Campact conducted a survey with nearly 40.000 people and has found that high standards, sustainable agriculture and the rejection of the special suit right of the corporations are the most important issues concerning TTIP. The CSO determines, that in general, the EU trade policy has to lead to more decision space for the European negotiation partners, to ensure that they can set social and ecologically boundaries for the economy (Campact, b)). 

Campact so far collected 847.219 signatures on a Petition for a stop of the negotiations for TTIP. The signatures will be send with an appeal to the EU trade commissioner and the president of the European parliament (Campact, b)). 

The first European citizens’ initiative that was planned to be based on a Petition with 2.000.000 signatures, was stopped in 2014. In May this year however, the European court explained that the decision of the commission, which stopped the citizens’ initiative registration of “Stop TTIP”, was void. The planned initiative was not, as formerly claimed, an inadmissible interference in the course of the legislative procedure (Campact, 2017). 

Besides the Petition, Campact organizes a vary of demonstrations in cooperation with its partner civil society organisations which they cover by YouTube Videos and reports on their own website. 

On the TTIP issue, Campact is collaborating with FIfF, AbL, Mehr Demokratie, Berliner Wassertisch, Berlin 21 and DVD2. These Campaign partners each participate in the Petition and the promotion of it and partly have their own campaigns additionally to it. They collaborate at planning demonstrations and for educating citizens about TTIP. 

The CSO Campact and its collaborating campaign partners are opposing TTIP based on its in their opinion negative influence on our democracy. The fact that companies could sue states based on expected lost profits due to certain laws, is proven through court cases that were possible thanks to other trade agreements so far.  

One problem with the objective of stopping TTIP is probably that the usual citizen is not able to understand the agreement and relies on whatever the media dictates. This is the reason why campaigns like the petition, demonstrations and the explanation videos on platforms like YouTube take a very important part in elucidate the society about the transatlantic trade and investment agreement. 

References

Campact. (24. Februar 2010). Protest zahlt sich aus 400 Millionen Euro mehr für Klimaschutz. Abgerufen am 09. November 2017 von Campact Blog: https://blog.campact.de/2010/02/protest-zahlt-sich-aus-400-millionen-euro-mehr-fur-klimaschutz/ 

Campact. (14. Oktober 2015). Wie entscheidet Campact. Abgerufen am 09. November 2017 von Campact Knowledgebase: https://support.campact.de/en/kb/articles/wie-entscheidet-campact 

Campact. (02. December 2016). Wie funktioniert Campact? Abgerufen am 09. November 2017 von https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DNF1eQa2A2Y 

Campact. (2017). Über uns: Erfolge. Abgerufen am 09. November 2017 von Campact Homepage: https://www.campact.de/campact/ueber-campact/erfolge/ 

Campact. (11. Mai 2017). Wir haben gewonnen! Abgerufen am 11. November 2017 von Campact Blog: https://blog.campact.de/2017/05/wir-haben-gewonnen-stopp-unserer-buergerinitiative-gegen-ttip-und-ceta-war-unrechtmaessig/ 

Campact. (a)). Über uns: Das Team. Abgerufen am 09. November 2017 von Campact Homepage: https://www.campact.de/campact/ueber-campact/das-team/ 

Campact. (b)). TTIP stoppen. Abgerufen am 08. November 2017 von Campact: https://www.campact.de/ttip/ 

Finnegan, B. (2017). Modern Society. Lectures to BA Journalism Year 3. Abgerufen am Oktober 2017 

Kandor, M. (13. Mai 2003). The idea of global civil society

Kurzgesagt – In a Nutshell. (09. September 2013). Fracking erklärt: Chance oder Gefahr. Abgerufen am 10. November 2017 von https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uti2niW2BRA 

Rooy, A. (2004). The Global Legiticamy Game – Civil Society, Globalisation. and Protest. Palgrave. 

Notes

1 See for example the HBO Documentation “Gasland” from 2010. It focuses on different communities in the US which have been affected by Fracking. The Documentation was even nominated for the Academy Award for Best Documentary in 2011.