Climate Change and Communication Overview Articles in WIREs

olbannerleftIt always feel a little more gratifying directing folks to articles that appear outside the more obvious communication journals from which many CommPilings readers may be already receiving alerts. Case in point: two overview articles in  Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Climate Change (Volume 7, Issue 3 May/June 2016) on climate change and communication.  The articles are:

Climate Change Communication: What Can We Learn From Communication Theory? by Anne Gammelgaard Ballantyne (pages 329–344).


The literature on climate change communication addresses a range of issues relevant to the communication of climate change and climate science to lay audiences or publics. In doing so, it approaches this particular challenge from a variety of different perspectives and theoretical frameworks. Analyzing the body of scholarly literature on climate change communication, this article critically reviews how communication is conceptualized in the literature and concludes that the field of climate change communication is characterized by diverging and incompatible understandings of communication as a theoretical construct. In some instances, communication theory appears reduced to an ‘ad hoc’ toolbox, from which theories are randomly picked to provide studies with a fitting framework. Inspired by the paradigm shift from transmission to interaction within communication theory, potential lessons from the field of communication theory are highlighted and discussed in the context of communicating climate change. Rooted in the interaction paradigm, the article proposes a meta-theoretical framework that conceptualizes communication as a constitutive process of producing and reproducing shared meanings. Rather than operating in separate ontological and epistemological perspectives, a meta-theoretical conceptualization of communication would ensure a common platform that advances multi-perspective argumentation and discussion of the role of climate change communication in society.

Reflections on Climate Change Communication Research and Practice in the Second Decade of the 21st Century: What More Is There to Say? by Susanne C. Moser (pp. 345-369).


Appreciable advances have been made in recent years in raising climate change awareness and enhancing support for climate and energy policies. There also has been considerable progress in understanding of how to effectively communicate climate change. This progress raises questions about the future directions of communication research and practice. What more is there to say? Through a selective literature review, focused on contributions since a similar stock-taking exercise in 2010, the article delineates significant advances, emerging trends and topics, and tries to chart critical needs and opportunities going forward. It describes the climate communication landscape midway through the second decade of the 21st century to contextualize the challenges faced by climate change communication as a scientific field. Despite the important progress made on key scientific challenges laid out in 2010, persistent challenges remain (superficial public understanding of climate change, transitioning from awareness and concern to action, communicating in deeply politicized and polarized environments,and dealing with the growing sense of overwhelm and hopelessness). In addition, new challenges and topics have emerged that communication researchers and practitioners now face. The study reflects on the crucial need to improve the interaction between climate communication research and practice, and calls for dedicated science-practice boundary work focused on climate change communication. A set of new charges to climate communicators and researchers are offered in hopes to move climate change communication to a new place—at once more humble yet also more ambitious than ever before, befitting to the crucial role it could play in the cultural work humanity faces with climate change.


American Attitudes About Science from AAAS

apples2The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) released a 66-page report, AMERICANS’ ATTITUDES ABOUT SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY: THE SOCIAL CONTEXT FOR PUBLIC COMMUNICATION, prepared by Matthew C. Nisbet and Ezra Markowitz. Topics covered include the public’s use of media, the audience for science news, partisan publics and their news habits, science literacy, knowledge gaps, and public trust of government and scientific research.  After laying this foundation the authors look more specifically at public attitudes about some of the big science issues of the day–climate change, food biotechnology, infectious diseases and epidemics, and antibiotic resistance.

August CommQuote

Toward the end of The Marvelous Clouds: Towards a Philosophy of Elemental 9780226253831Media (University of Chicago, 2015)–an instant classic that should be on every student of the media’s bookshelf (wooden or virtual)–John Durham Peters calls on journalists to create a new kind of weather report.

“For traditional media scholars, the vision of infrastructure advocated here would encourage us to see media practices and institutions as embedded in relations with both the natural and the human worlds. The digital changes of our times are impossible without mines and minerals, clouds and electrical grids, habits of human want and labor, and global patterns of human inequality and abuse. The mass media of television and radio, journalism and cinema are likewise anchored in human size and shape, optical and acoustic bandwidth, forestry and plastics. If our evolutionary history had not produced the feet, spines, and skulls that we have, our media – and our world – would look very different. Media old and new are embedded in cycles of day and night, weather and climate, energy and culture, and they presuppose large populations of domesticated plants, animals, and humans, to say nothing of an old and cold universe. The digital implies basic facts of biology. We should make a greener media studies that appreciates our long natural history of shaping and being shaped by our habitats as a process of mediation.

For scholars interested in news and journalism, my arguments against content as the essence of communication might at first seem discouraging. But these arguments follow a lineage back to James W. Carey, who saw news as drama and story, habit and ritual. Indeed, survey evidence shows that people are most attached to news about the natural rather than the human world: the weather report. As currently practiced, news is already heavily environmental, perhaps without claiming it, and weather reporting is perhaps the biggest investment in daily science communication that exists. If this book had one policy proposal to make, it would be to call for a vastly enhanced weather report that moved beyond the daily kairos of the weather to the generational chronos of the climate. Like most good policy proposals, this one is wildly idealistic, especially as it faces one of the best-known facts in the sociobiology of news production: its daily short-term bias. As slow-moving stories of all kinds tend to fall out of the diurnal round of journalistic attention, this proposal joins other calls that tie the well-being of democracy to a shift in the culture and business of news. Nonetheless, the pieced are in place: we have a vast weather-watching and –reporting infrastructure that daily puts a human face on complex nonhuman data and could deepen into public drama and information about our climate, atmosphere, and latest co-evolutionary tinkering with our geohabitat. The weather report of the future could cultivate the best attachments to out earth and world. The public sphere has always needed nature as its condition, but today it needs it as content as well.”      from “Conclusion: The Sabbath Of Meaning,”  pp. 377-378


Communication and the Moon

Two interesting books came out this year relating to the moon.  marketingthemoonIn Marketing the Moon: The Selling of the Apollo Lunar Program by David Meerman Scott, Richard Jurek (MIT Press, 2014), the authors give us a detailed account of the PR campaigns and subsequent media coverage of the Apollo missions. It is not only a well written book, it’s a beautiful book, full of photographs and  illustrations.

Joshua Rothman in the  New Yorker’s August review observes: “…If there was a central pillar to the Apollo P.R. effort, it was live television. Scott and Jurek chart the continual battle within NASA over live TV. On one side were the engineers and military types, who viewed onboard television cameras as an unnecessary addition to the mission payload, or even as an invasion of astronaut privacy. On the other side were the administrators and public-relations specialists, who argued that television was, in some ways, the point of the mission. To the pro-TV faction, the medium had an ideological meaning: when faced with opposition from the engineering team, Julian Scheer, NASA’s director of P.R., said, “We’re not the Soviets. Let’s do this the American way….CBS covered the Apollo 11 landing for thirty-two continuous hours; it set up special screens in Central Park so that people could watch in a crowd. Ninety-four per cent of TV-owning American households tuned in. Without television, the moon landing would have been a merely impressive achievement — an expensive stunt, to the cynical. Instead, seen live, unedited, and everywhere, it became a genuine experience of global intimacy.”

Then there’s No Requiem for the Space Age: The Apollo Moon Landings and American Culture by Matthew D. Trippe (Oxford University Press, 2014) which takes a more cultural view.  It looks at the space program through the lens of of cultural artifact such as movies, novels, rock albums, and religious tracts of the 1960s and 70s and proceeds to analyze why support for the NASA missions decreased throughout the 70s.  requiem One of the reasons had to do with the growing conflict between the more straightlaced-rational-military/scientific culture versus the more mystical-rebellious-skeptical of authority (including scientific) counterculture. NPR’s Robert Krulwich reviewing the book in his blog, Krulich Wonders (July 16, 2014), points out another of Tribbe’s explanations which I find even more interesting (at least it’s less obvious), one that has to do with rhetoric, which he devotes a whole chapter to.

“People, he thinks, were eager to hear what it was like to escape the Earth’s atmosphere, to travel weightlessly, to touch down on an alien planet, to be the first explorers to leave “home,” and too often (much too often), the astronauts talked about these things using the same words — “beautiful,” “fantastic” — over and over. If space exploration was to be a grand adventure, it needed explorers who could take us there, tell us how it felt, explorers who could connect with those of us who can’t (but want to) come along. Inarticulateness, Tribbe thinks, hurt the space program.”

Even if your research these days has no lunar bearings whatsoever, both books look like fascinating reads.