I have analysed 25 articles from The New York Times, dividing the described views into definitions, causes, effects and solutions of climate change, and looking at structure and lexicon to validate these views.
When it comes to structure, the remarkable fact that a lot of articles immediately turn to the solutions of climate change, implicates that most media take climate change for granted. They already accept climate change as a problem, in need of a solution. This view is validated
by going against arguments that assert otherwise, either by using strong, excessive adjectives, which explicitly construct climate change as a problem, which shouldn’t be underestimated (article 13: the reviewer comments that the book “doesn’t make enough, perhaps, of necessity”, because “after all, the world has destroyed itself totally”),
by almost personally attacking climate change sceptics and emitting an attitude of natural arrogance (article 19:
“global warming sceptics are showing signs of internal rifts and weakening support”, they are a “shrinking collection
of extremists” that are left “talking to themselves”, they are “oblivious to the data they seek to discount” and try to “bamboozle the innocent”). As if, obviously, they are so stupid, and off course, we are right.
However, although the media generally agree on climate change being a problem, there appears to be some controversy over its definition after all.
Some articles apply a typical text structure which implies the idea of a debate, with “believers” and “non-believers” speaking on alternating turns, which is emphasized by words such as “wedge”, but also more subtle, invalidating words, such as “but”, “while”, “nevertheless” and “on the other hand” (article 1).
Some articles construct climate change as a mechanism which exploits basic human anxieties to achieve a controlled, swaddling, formal society, through the word game “the planet is in the process of being “ceiled”, that is, roofed over, the delight of this is that it has been “sealed” too: in her attempt to produce a safe environment, Mother Earth has closed off many kinds of behaviour” (article 13).
Some blame climate change to be an excuse to put more money into science, which is emphasized through invalidating phrases such as “hyperbole” and “hyperventilation” and the accusing statement that “all administrations use science in service of a political agenda”, implying Obama is imposing some ideology (article 18).
Moreover, the view that climate change is a not a problem at all is constructed through standard, cool, common sense comments such as “if the planet’s climate is getting hotter, it is part of a natural cycle and will probably correct itself” and “experts have been wrong before” (article 15) and through repeatedly declaratively denying climate change, for there is “no solid scientific evidence” and “no urgent risk” (article 19).
The view on climate change as an overstatement is validated by speaking in a worried way, trying to neutralize strong statements, such as “climate change is nearing tipping points”. By making invalidating assaults, with words such as “misleading”, “backfire”, “fueling criticism of alarmism” and “threatening public support”, sceptics actually aim their argument in the exact same direction as alarmists do, that is, the people as the key to solve climate change. However, the ideological dilemma “If we say we passed thresholds and tipping points today, this will be an excuse for inaction tomorrow” warns scientists not to overreact, or no one will act.
When it comes to structure, the remarkable fact that almost all articles sooner or later, repeatedly or randomly link climate change to CO2, implicates that the media already, quite automatically accept climate change to be caused by CO2.
No discussion needed. Statements that “global warming from emissions of greenhouse gases are the most important long-term threat to bears” (article 11), that the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposal would require factories to report their emissions of “carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and other gases that climate scientists link to global warming” (article 16) and that “CO2 is the main heat-trapping gas linked to global warming” (article 12 and 25) directly denote CO2 to be the cause of climate change.
Furthermore, the continuous random repetition of the term CO2, its link to the severe consequences of climate change (which I will return to in the next section) and the endless list of economical solutions that are all aimed at reducing CO2 emissions (which I will return to later on as well), contribute to the construction of CO2’s connotative meaning: the cause of climate change.
Moreover, by referring to experts (article 11) and the scientific consensus on greenhouse gases causing climate change (article 16) this argument becomes more plausible.
At the same time, the denomination “human-induced climate change” (article 10) literally constructs climate change being caused by human beings. A view which is validated through phrases such as
“by 2013, the entire Arctic could be devoid of ice in summer, and the region is likely to experience an influx of shipping, fishing and tourism”, “the town’s piedibuses have so far eliminated more than 100.000 miles of car travel and, in principle, prevented thousands of tons of greenhouse gases from entering the air” (article 5),
“from these changes, Americans would reduce the amount of land, water and chemicals used to produce the food we eat, as well as the incidence of lifestyle diseases linked to unhealthy diets, and greenhouse gases from industrial meat production” (article 9)
“two categories accounted for 95 percent of the emissions: fuel for on-site generators, transportation and special effects, and the electricity used for sets and offices” (article 25), which include alarming terms and numbers, and above all suggest climate change is caused by human lifestyles.
Moreover, some of the articles construct the notion of climate change not being caused by the US, which is validated
by blaming China (article 14: “now the world’s largest emitter of carbon” has to “get on board”, because “without China’s participation, any climate policy, along with the associated revenue, may be a political non-starter”), which is emphasized through declarative clauses with overdone adjectives and so increases the credibility of China causing climate change,
by blaming Russia (article 4: “Russia planted its flag in the North Pole’s ocean floor two years ago”), which is emphasized by the flag-metaphor, contributing to the visualisation of Russia causing climate change, and by a high level of transitivity, as though Russia actively causes climate change,
by blaming other countries (article 4: “other northern nations find themselves under mounting pressure to lay claim to huge swaths of the seabed”), which is emphasized through passiveness, as though the northern nations can’t help claiming and thereby harming the climate, which validates the view that other countries cause climate change and distract you from the US’ share in causing climate change.
Although most articles immediately turn to the solutions of climate change, some report on the effects as well. First of all, there is the conception of climate change having severe natural consequences
which is constructed by pointing out the possible, by now kind of obvious and familiar sounding, standard, stereotype natural results of climate change, and connecting these to exaggerated adjectives such as “widespread”, “overwhelming”, “immediacy”, “menace”, “threats” and “collapse”.
Moreover, the metaphor “tipping points” implies a threshold in which change suddenly becomes unstoppable, which is an effort to stir public concern. The ideological dilemma “if we do not change course, we’ll hand our children a situation that is out of their control” intensifies this, meaning we should take into account the next generation, instead of being selfish. And finally, the alarming tone, the active voice, the declarative mood and the lack of modulation of truth claims all contribute to the construction of climate change having severe natural consequences (article 1).
Furthermore, by referring to tangible victims of climate change, such as Bangladesh, which is emphasized by excessive phrases such as “desperate delta folk”, “one of the world’s most vulnerable countries”, “concern that a swelling sea will soon swallow parts of Bangladesh” and “a nation that many see as indefensible to the ravages of human-induced climate change” and by talking intransitively, as though climate change is something which simply befalls on Bangladesh, for it is “among the nations most susceptible to climate change, already prone to cyclones, it could be hit by more frequent and intense storms, seawater is creeping into the agricultural land, its long coast is exposed to the hungry sea” (article 10), and such as polar bears near the arctic, which is emphasized by the continuous repetition of the term polar bears, which at some point makes you feel the fluffy animals, and linking this term to a tone of defenceless-ness, which at some point makes you feel for the fluffy animals (article 11).
Moreover, by referring to the Environmental Protection Agency and Dork Sahagian, professor of earth and environmental science and director of the Environmental Initiative in Bethlehem, the view of climate change affecting water quality and, naturally, nature, is scientifically confirmed and becomes convincing (article 20).
However, as much as the articles report on the natural consequences of climate change, the articles also regularly report on the economical consequences of climate change.
First of all, by comparing climate change to the economical crisis, which is emphasized through a couple of typical metaphors, such as “The Market” versus “Mother Nature”, “red numbers on the Dow” versus “Mother Nature doesn’t have a Dow” and “401(k) collapsing” versus “sea level rising”, and by subsequently stating that climate change is caused by the economical crisis and the other way around, the idea of climate change having economical consequences is connotatively constructed (article 2).
Besides, by repeatedly urging on the inconvenience of climate change in mere economical terms (article 2: “hey, Mother Nature, we’re having a credit crisis, could you take a couple of years off?”, article 7: “businesses fear that the finding will impose complex and costly rules” and article 21: many power plants “complain” that they are “forced” to pay for the allowances and Paterson “argues” that the number of free allowances is “not enough”), which is emphasized through citing the US Chamber of Commerce, coal industry groups and other economically concerned parties, in a passive and negative tone, as though they are the victims of climate change, climate change becomes an economical issue, instead of a mere environmental issue.
Although most articles seem to agree on climate change being an issue in the first place, though sometimes somewhat overrated, commonly caused by greenhouse gases, though not by the US, and affecting nature, but the economy as well, it turns out there is considerable controversy after all. Controversy over the solutions to climate change, that is. When it comes to structure, the remarkable fact that almost all articles take climate change, caused by CO2 and having severe natural and economical consequences for granted, and almost immediately and mainly focus on solutions, implicates these are considered most interesting, most significant, most worthy of writing about. The offered solutions can be broadly divided into four repertoires.
1. First of all, there is the view that climate change is a problem, which will finally really be solved.
This view is validated through the constant comparison between Obama and his predecessors (article 3: “longstanding issues that have blocked the development of an international climate treaty”, “the talks organized by the Bush administration were criticized as an effort to circumvent global climate negotiations” and “the US refused to ratify an earlier international agreement, the Kyoto Protocol”, article 8: Bush “supported terrorists and had nuclear ambitions”, article 14: Clinton’s policy was more “symbolic than real” and Bush “never made finding an alternative approach to climate change a major priority” and article 18: “Mr. Bush was often accused of trying to shade or even suppress the finding of government scientists on climate change”), which particularly portray Bush as the evil, sly, calculating character in the story, and repeatedly refer to the term “intended”, as though Bush indeed “intended” to solve climate change, but never really did.
By subsequently describing Obama in phrases of hope, positivity and activity (article 3: “expect the Obama administration to be more productive” and “I think this administration is truly committed to finding a solution for everybody”, article 7: “the first step in a new approach to climate change” and “this finding will officially end the era of denial on global warming”, article 14: Obama’s budget makes “clear” he “really” wants to “address the problem of global climate change”, a “commitment” that stands in “stark contrast to policy during the previous two administrations” and article 18: Obama “delighted” many scientists by “formally announcing” that he was “overtuning” Bush’ “limits”, which was “another in long string of rebukes by Mr. Obama towards his predecessor”), which emphasize the shortcomings of the previous presidents, which contain a tone of pessimism towards the “bad before”, and optimism towards the “happy ever after”, and which consciously construct Obama as a hero (article 18: “the line “we make scientific decisions based on facts, not ideology” drew more applause than any other”), Obama becomes the symbol of the solution to the climate.
2. And although the articles repeatedly refer to the “global treaty” to be signed in Copenhagen in December (article 3, as well as article 7), to the delight of China and India’s participation in the “international climate treaty” (article 7) and to phrases such as “negotiations for a new global treaty are under way” (article 3), “America can’t afford to ignore friends” (article 8), “the thing we need to do is look to the global community to seriously address and mitigate climate change” (article 11) and “I have never been part of something like this where the power of an idea has grabbed so many people so quickly” (article 15), as though climate change should be solved together, jointly and globally, above all, climate change should be solved on the US’ initiative. The blame does not lie with the US.
But the solution does, as the following phrases emphasize: “As citizens of a shared earth, we also have a stake in the greater good that can come from exploring the depths of the fastest warming part of the planet. American leadership on a polar park would send a clear message that we are attuned to the climate crisis.”
The terms “citizens”, “American leadership” and the repetition of “we” connotatively construct an optimistic, almost idealistic and patriotic image of climate change which can and should be solved by the US.
Phrases such as “it sends bad signals to other states, which for years have looked to New York for leadership - not backsliding - on climate change” (article 22) and “the governor’s move sends the wrong message” (article 23) connotatively construct the ideological dilemma of the US having an example function.
3. Furthermore, the articles argue that if climate change is solved, it should be solved economically.
By first constructing climate change as an economical issue, instead of a mere environmental issue, which is emphasized through typical economical terms such as “cost”, “consumers”, “higher energy prices”, “revenues”, “tax increases” (article 14), “financing”, “government support” and “loan programs” (article 15) and trough the phrases “with 350 days of sun, the city is making a calculation that has nothing to do with saving the Earth”, “renewable energy is important here as an economic choice” and “we can use the money we’ve saved to race new toys”, which literally lay out this thought (article 15) and the phrases “concern with water quality still drives the job market” and “salaries for hydrologists range from an entry level of about $35.000 to well into six figures”, which connotatively construct the meaning of climate change, that is, a highly economical issue, the view that climate change is an economical problem in need of an economical solution is validated.
Subsequently, by repeatedly referring to the cap and trade-pact, which is an economical measure, in which “ten states, from Maryland to Maine, agreed to cap the emissions from hundreds of power plants to make them pay for polluting” (article 21), by portraying Patterson, who decided to reopen the rules reducing greenhouse gas emissions, as someone “whose list of friends in the political world seems to be growing shorter by the week” (article 22), by using strong, emotional statements from Paterson’s opponents, such as “his decision infuriated environmental groups”, “environmentalists are perplexed”, “we’re extremely troubled by this development” and “I have trouble even fathoming what played out”, and distant, businesslike claims linked to Paterson’s party, such as “Paterson appeared to overrule”, “Paterson does not plan to withdraw”, “it’s a responsible decision to reopen it” and “my personal views don’t really matter” (article 23) construct a contrast in which Paterson’s decision is “the bad”, and more importantly, the original cap and trade-pact is “the good”, for it “discourages pollution”, raises money for “clean energy investments” and is “more important to environmentalists than any other program” (article 22).
Another manner to validate economical measures is to zoom in on companies that are actually already doing so, such as EBay, which has set up a “Green Team” that works on making the company environmentally friendly (article 24) and Fox, which announces that “24” is going green to become the first “carbon neutral” television series (article 25), by subsequently setting out an extensive summary of concrete examples, such as “it has hired consultants to measure the carbon-dioxide output from the production”, “started using 20 percent bio diesel fuel in trucks and generators”, “installed motion monitors in bathrooms and kitchens to make the lights more efficient” and “paid the higher fees that help California utilities buy wind and solar power” (article 25) and by lastly linking these economical efforts to experts, such as Andre de Fontaine, a fellow at the Pew Center on Global Climate Change who helps businesses create programs addressing global warming, who says that eBay “deserves credit” for the way it is “trying to solve climate change” (article 24), Joel Makower, executive editor of GreenBiz.com, which advises businesses and evaluates the effectiveness of environmental measures, who said he was “impressed”, that “these are not just feel-good measures” and that “they did their homework” (article 25) and Alan Marks, senior vice president for global communications at eBay, who says that “we think we have a leadership role to play both in the industry and the broader world, we think we have the ability to help start conversations” and that eBay “commits to promoting sustainable consumption conversations” (article 25), which not only constructs companies being on the right track, but also validates the view of companies having an example function in solving climate change economically.
Moreover, the proposal of five policies of a “climate bailout”, which, again, all have to do with economics (emphasized by the use of exact numbers, years and amounts of money) and which, most importantly, “pay long-term dividends” to the economy, denotatively construct the climate as an economical issue, in need of an economical solution (article 2).
That is why some articles argue that some solutions to climate change seem to be mere marketing tools. The sceptical, metaphorical phrase that “over the last couple of years, protecting the environment has become as American as apple pie and Derek Jetter” makes you wonder whether companies want to be green for the sake of saving the climate, or for the sake of saving themselves (article 24). And finally, the critical comment that the cap and trade-pact is a “secret process with an industry that has donated tens of thousands of dollars to Paterson’s campaign coffers” implicates that the whole climate change issue is part of a political and economical lobby (article 23).
4. And finally, there is the view that climate change is a problem, which can be solved by the people.
This view is validated through declarative phrases, such as “it’s not enough to say no to things anymore”, “we have to say yes to the right thing”, “we have to accept our responsibility that something that we have been advocating for decades is about to happen”(article 6) and “we’re not where we were, but we’re not where we want to be” (article 17), which repeatedly refer to the terms “we” and “have”, as though “we”, the people, together “have” to, are obliged to solve climate change, and contain an idealistic image, which appeals to the sentiment and so stimulates people to take action.
Furthermore, by quoting a little Italian blonde boy who takes the piedibus and says “I get to see my friends and we feel special because we know it’s good for the environment”, the article sweetly, smartly and skilfully suggests the ideological dilemma een beter milieu begint bij jezelf (article 5).
Moreover, the introduction of the expert Roger L. Mackett, a professor at the Center for Transport Studies at University College in London, who says that there is growing evidence that children whose parents drive a lot will become car-dependent adults, validates the view that climate change should be solved by the people, due to the ideological dilemma that we have to take care of and set an example for the future generation (article 5).
The reoccurring concrete, considerable examples of how people can compete with climate change, such as “Cosmopolitan’s list “Sexy Ways to Go Green”, including showering with your boyfriend, using all-natural lubricants and lounging naked on summer days instead of using air-conditioning”, “Good Housekeeping’s contribution - Recycling Made Simple - which suggests that women lose interest in sex in two decades, and gain an interest in separating their recyclables” (article 24) and particularly Michelle Obama’s suggestion of “you can begin in your own cupboard, by eliminating processed food, trying to cook a meal a little more often, trying to incorporate more fruits and vegetables” (article 5) popularize the view that you can deal with climate change yourself. Again, een beter milieu begint bij jezelf.
And finally, stimulating sentences such as “the stars of “24” will encourage viewers to take steps themselves” and “if we can do it, anyone can” (article 25) validate the view that climate change can be solved by the people.
4.2 US Public Discourse on Climate Change: Berkeley University
Now that I know what the US media discourse on climate change looks like, I would like to know how the US public discourse on climate change is constructed. And so I have analysed the interview with the Berkeley University students, dividing their views into definitions, causes, effects and solutions of climate change, and looking at structure and lexicon to validate these views.
When it comes to structure, the remarkable fact that when the respondents are asked to define climate change, they immediately turn to possible causes and solutions, implicates that they already take climate change as an issue for granted. No discussion needed. Furthermore, the comments “I think the big question right now is: are we as humans adding to the pace of change? Are we speeding it up or is it gonna happen anyway? And if we are speeding it up, how much are we effecting climate change?” and “I think everyone agrees that the natural resources, like oil and steel or whatever, are diminishing, and that all of it will be gone in twenty years or so. Everyone agrees on that. I think the question is whether we can or cannot do anything about it”, implicate that we are passed the question whether climate change is an issue at all.
It just is.
Nevertheless, the overall, typical structure of the text emphasizes the idea of a debate, with George, Sam and Paul speaking on alternating turns. The respondents underline the controversy of climate change, by using phrases such as “it’s really debatable”, “it’s kind of difficult to create your own opinion, because there is so much going on with what everyone is telling you”, “you read it’s gonna be hot, and then you read that maybe this warm gulf stream that is causing climate change is going to change, so no, it’s getting cooler again” and “you really have to put your mind to it, to come to the right conclusions”, by emphasizing that their opinions are based on a controversial subject, through terms such as “for me”, “I think”, “in my view”, “in my opinion” and “personally”, by pointing out contradictory parties through phrases such as “everyone in the world”, “a lot of people are now concerned” and “a lot of people argue against this”, but also by using more subtle, invalidating terms, such as “but”, “while” and “nevertheless”.
So there is also the view of climate change as a subject of uncertainty, which is validated through the overall tone of the interview.
The respondents bear out doubt, by continuously asking questions back (for instance, when asked to define climate change), such as “are we speeding up the pace of climate change or is it gonna happen anyway?”, “can we do something about it?”, “or is it just a cycle which we cannot do anything about?”, “how about you guys?” and “so then, what is it?”.
Furthermore, the continuous repetition of the phrase “I don’t know” also emphasizes the uncertainty of climate change (the average temperature was something, like, I don’t know, 20 or 30 degrees Celsius”, “I don’t know, because all the news is on the economy right now”, “I don’t know, the weather in Berkeley doesn’t really follow the seasons”, “I don’t know, make it as crazy as you like” and “I don’t know actually”).
Besides, the continuous repetition of the filler “I think” also amplifies a sense of uncertainty. In an interview of a little over half an hour, the respondents said “I think” 32 times, which is about once every minute. That’s a lot.
And finally, a phrase such as “I’m just pulling it of the top of my head” indicates that the respondents are already making excuses for not being certain on climate change. They don’t know “because all the news is on the economy right now, they don’t talk about climate change too much”.
But except for climate change being an issue, though controversial and uncertain, there appears to be a verbal repertoire in which climate change becomes part of a conspiracy theory. This view is validated
by accusing the media of “trying to create a vision that it’s our fault, that everything, all the problems, we can fix it”, by introducing the thought that climate change is “just a commercial thing for businesses to make money”, “a problem that is there, but that is not so much there…”
by metaphorically referring to these businesses as the “green mafia” (mafia is a loose association of criminal groups that share a common organizational structure and code of conduct), as though climate change is a delusion, a conspiracy,
the continuous repetition of “they”, “they’re creating” and “they’re saying”, the introduction of some terrifying images such as “the Netherlands will flood” and “the whole of Europe will be gone”,
the literally down to earth, cool comment “but when you’re here, sitting on the grass in the sun, you don’t feel like that, do you?” emphasize the thought of us being framed, as though we are weak, blind, paralyzed robots being controlled by this higher, criminal, money minded power.
First of all, there is the conception of climate change being part of a natural cycle
which is constructed through a couple of comments, in which climate change is denotatively defined as a cycle, such as “climate change is a cycle that has been happening for maybe tens or hundreds or thousands of years” and “I view it as a greater cycle in the earth’s natural history”, but also through the repeatedly mentioning of the actual word “cycle”.
Furthermore, in terms of intransitivity, by calling climate change a cycle that “has been happening”, as though it is not caused by something or someone, but happens on itself, by arguing that “it has been happening for tens or hundreds or thousands of years”, “we’ve had ice ages before”, “before that, in the age of dinosaurs, it was really hot” and “in the big cycle a hundred years is nothing”, and by using the specific phrases “thousands of years”, “long before” and “the long run” the respondents construct a sense of overwhelming grandiosity and almightiness. Climate change is out of our hands. It is part of a higher power, a natural cycle.
And finally, by invalidating the arguments against this view (“In my opinion humans have a minimal impact” and “I think, yes, we are speeding it up, but I think that in the long run it doesn’t matter that much by how much we speed it up”) and confidently positioning oneself (“I’m a big cycle guy” and “us cycle fans”) this view on the climate becomes convincing.
However, even though climate change is considered to be part of natural cycle, by continuously, strongly stressing that “we are speeding up the pace of climate change”, “the CO2 emissions are definitely pacing up global warming”, “we’re helping the cycle”, “we are speeding it up” and “we are adding to the pace of change”, by talking of “industrializing”, “carbon emission have gone up” and “exploiting all the resources the earth offers us” (which are all human inductions) and by repeatedly talking of “we”, “us”, “humans” and the “human race” the idea that climate change is a human-induced problem is connotatively constructed.
Despite this, the respondents provide a pair of perspectives which perfectly prove that the US is not guilty of causing climate change.
First of all, by using strong statements with pressing words such as “right now, the focus is on developing countries, like China” and “China has a very big impact” and by subsequently stating that “because right now, I’m taking this course on the Chinese economy”, the view of China causing climate change becomes convincing, for it is based on an actual, academic research. On the other hand, by continuing on how “China is trying to develop from a developing nation into a developed nation”, an example in which climate change is seen from China’s perspective (emphasized by phrases such as “all you Western nations”, “you’ve already industrialized”, “we’re just trying to catch up” and “we can’t do anything to stop it”), China’s industrialization is described as a natural, logical phenomenon (emphasized by phrases such as “part of the process” and “the same thing we have done in the past”) and developing countries are excused through the phrase “industrialized countries can’t really blame the developing countries right now”.
All in all, these sentences, this tone and this specific example validate the ideological dilemma that you “can’t blame” anyone for causing climate change, for this behavior is historically determined and therefore justified. In brief, climate change is inevitable.
Second of all, this idea of climate change is constructed through the example of how “poor countries burn their woods”. It confirms the view of climate change being inevitable through the common sense arguments that “they’re poor and that’s why they burn their woods”, “they have no other option” and “because every country wants to be big and wealthy”. Finally, phrases such as “I think that because of the many people that live here, the US has to” and “well, we’re not able to, because it will affect the country” explains away the US’ share in causing climate change, as though it can’t help itself, as though they are excused for causing climate change, for climate change is simply inevitable.
A final excuse for the US would be the structure of its society. Arguments such as “the bigger social problem is the way America’s suburbs are structured”, “everyone has to drive around and every family has two or three cars” and “there’s no public transport, you have to drive everywhere”, contain a sense of a higher power (which is emphasized by the term “bigger social problem”), and so a sense of powerlessness (which is emphasized by the stress on “has”). Furthermore, the merely economical, and therefore logical line of thought “gasoline prices are cheaper here than in Asia or Europe, so they just spend more on gas” and the common sense, stereotype supporting argument “and Americans like to drive big cars too” justify and therefore validate the view that climate change is caused and excused by the social structure of the US society.
When it comes to effects, the dominating verbal repertoire views climate change as a problem, with severe natural consequences
which is constructed through the continuous repetition of some standard terms that are typically referred to when talking of the severe natural consequences of climate change, such as melting ice caps (“the ice caps will melt” and “definitely, the polar ice cap melting issue is a really big topic”), sea level rising (“the sea level is gonna rise”, “the sea level rising is pretty bad” and “there will be floods”) and storms (“the storms and the sea level rising are the biggest issues there are” and “off course, climate change leads to more and bigger storms”).
Moreover, the remarkable fact that when the respondents discuss climate change, they automatically, interchangeably use the term “global warming” (“pacing global warming”, “if we’re talking about global warming” and “the disasters of global warming”), implicates that climate change is principally linked to natural consequences, instead of for instance economical or social effects.
Subsequently, by connecting these natural consequences to intense, excessive, frightening phrases such as “we are destroying the earth”, “the earth will eventually break down”, “eventually, the whole of Europe will be gone”, “there will be big problems, there will be floods, there will be bigger storms, there will be diseases, because of the disasters of the global warming” and “there are definitely people out there that are genuinely concerned, they really believe it’s gonna happen” the sense of severity is strengthened.
And also by mentioning exact periods of time (“melting of the ice caps in the next ten years”, “the Netherlands will flood in ten years” and “swim in my backyard in a few years”), by strongly stressing that we need to think about “where we’re heading the next generation”, by mentioning that “when the next generation grows up, will they see the sea flooding their homes” (twice!) and by mentioning that “if the sea level is gonna rise, the entire world will suffer”, especially Bangladesh (which, although casually, is mentioned repeatedly), but closer to home, the big cities in the Western world as well (“because, whether it’s in Asia, North America or Europe, most of the world’s biggest cities are close to the coast line” and “Manhatten is a rock, right? No, it’s not that high. It’s still gonna be flooded”) the idea of climate change as genuinely having severe natural consequences becomes even more convincing.
And finally, by referring to what they have heard and seen in the media (“I saw it in some movie, they created a vision of the earth, and they created the melting of the ice caps in the next ten years”, “in that movie he made it perfectly clear what will happen”, “there’s also the 11th Hour with the same sort of message” and “have you guys seen the documentary by All Gore, An Inconvenient Truth? he shows a pretty gloomy picture”) the respondents make their argument even more valid.
However, these same media are the subject of another effect, for the respondents repeatedly render the repertoire of climate change being a problem, which is not correctly reproduced by the media.
By accusing the media of being part of a conspiracy (which is emphasized through suspicious sentences such as “they try”, “they say” and “they create”, which are linked to typical terms such as “attention”, “a vision” and “a problem that is there, but is not so much there”) the assumption that the media do not correctly reproduce climate change is defended. Furthermore, when asked whether the media clarify or confuse the image climate change, the answer is “it’s both”, for “it depends on the media source”. This dubious image of the media implicates that they are not a clarifying, correctly reproducing mechanism.
The argument “I read the BBC website, which has some really interesting articles that presents maybe both sides.
But there are some really conservative newspapers or channels here in the US, sometimes it’s really politically oriented and they just say that climate change has a minimal impact on how we live or whatever”, literally lays out this view on climate change, exactly because it contains so much hesitation (which the terms “maybe”, “sometimes” and “whatever” verify) and so much influential factors (which the terms “conservative” and “politically oriented” indicate).
Ultimately, the critical comment “I also think that the bigger issue, at large, there are normal people just walking around that don’t have that much of an interest in climate change. They are like, it’s not gonna effect me, maybe my grandkids, but I’ll be dead by then” implies the ideological dilemma that climate change does not grab the media attention, because it is not about the presence, but more about the future. And so climate change is not correctly reproduced by the media.
Although climate change turns out to be a subject of uncertainty, the solutions sure aren’t uncertain. Because although the media are currently incorrect on climate change, the media might as well solve climate change.
By stressing the importance of the media (“the media are pretty important”),
by stating that the media attention on climate change should be increased (by critically commenting on the current situation in terms of “not on a daily basis”, “sometimes there’s something on the news about global warming, but not every day” and “there’s simply too little attention for climate change” and by fiercely arguing that the exact opposite should happen, perhaps even “exaggerate” climate change to “get the people’s attention”, for “especially” in the US people have “really short attention spans” and they “won’t be aware” of climate change until it’s “big enough” on the “covers of newspapers”, which is a “good attention grabber” to make them “stop” and think about where we’re “heading the next generation”),
by providing proof that it works (“after the movie you walk outside and you start paying attention to it”)
and by finally providing an actual, tangible example of how the media attention on climate change could be increased (“there should be a channel”, “some channel that pays constant attention to climate change and to these debates” and “the CNN climate change channel to constantly create awareness”).
Furthermore, there is the verbal repertoire of climate change as a problem, which should be solved by the world leaders
which is constructed through the continuous repetition of the term “leaders” (“I think the leaders of those countries, and especially to polluting countries, they should unite”, “the world leaders from America, Europe, Russia and so on, somehow they must regulate the price of wood” and “I think it would be nice, now that we have this economical crisis, that the leaders of the world would gather together”) and terms that are generally associated with leadership, such as “ruler” (“as a world ruler they should make the first, big step to actually make a change”), “power” (“but the government, they have the power”) and “responsibility” (“I think the polluting countries should take responsibility and take action”).
Furthermore, when turning to solutions, the respondents randomly refer to the G20, which is an economic forum consisting of 19 of the world’s largest economies, plus the European Union, the respondents repeatedly argue that the world leaders should enjoin (“they should unite” and “the leaders of the world should gather together”) and the respondents make the common sense comments that “the polluting countries should take responsibility and take action”, “the US always claims to be a world ruler, so as a world ruler they should make the first, big step to actually make a change” and “the government, they have the power, and so they have to obligate the people to have certain lifestyles”, meaning that those who claim and are considered to be the leaders should solve climate change.
Such as the US.
By referring to the common case of the Kyoto Protocol (“yeah, a good first step would be signing Kyoto”), by referring to the complaining current economical situation (“and now is the moment, with General Motors and Chrysler being bankrupt and all”) and by linking these typical US terms and situations to a sense of hope and opportunity, the respondents validate their view on climate change, being solved by the US.
Besides, the continuous repetition of “we” brings about a perception of patriotism, as though “we”, the US, will solve climate change. Moreover, the arguments “the US has to”, “we just have to see the light” and “the US always claims to be a world ruler, so as a world ruler they should make the first, big step to actually make a change” (which contain a lot of “should”, “have” and “has”), not only create of a view of climate change, which will be solved by the US, but also an urgent, pressing view of climate change, which simply should be solved by the US.
By Obama, to be exact.
This idea of climate change is constructed through the repeating reference to Obama (“right now Obama is talking about, to jumpstart the economy by investing in infrastructure, so I think that would be a really good opportunity to invest in more energy efficient infrastructure”, “with Obama and all, now there’s a real chance” and “Obama is gonna do good, I’m sure”), linking his name to terms of convincement, such as “really good”, “real chance” and “I’m sure”, to a typical tone of hope and to his famous motto “yes we can!”. Yes we can, solve climate change.
Furthermore, the reoccurring phrases “now is the moment” and “now is a good time” implicate Obama has come to the rescue. He has come to solve climate change. The phrase “Obama is gonna do good” literally lays out this thought.
But above all, the verbal repertoire of climate change as an economical issue, that therefore asks for an economical approach, seems to be dominant throughout the entire interview.
First of all, when asked to define climate change, the respondents start with the standard stand of climate change being a natural, yet partially human induced problem, with severe natural consequences. However, the respondents almost immediately start wondering whether climate change might be “just a commercial thing for businesses to make money”, thereby linking climate change to economics, something which continues and therefore dominates throughout the entire interview.
Besides structure, by continuously repeating typical economical terms, such as “money” (which reoccurs eight times), “economy” (which reoccurs seven times) and “price” (which reoccurs six times) the entire interview oozes out the conception of climate change being an economical issue, instead of a mere environmental issue.
Moreover, the reoccurring argument that lobbying, which is the practice of influencing decisions made by the government, sometimes stands in the way of the solution to climate change (“America contributes to big businesses, and so big businesses’ interests, like oil companies, which spend a lot of money on lobbying the government to pass laws that favor them, or to not pass laws that are bad for them”, “the big companies are trying to push it down through lobbying and everything”, “the money these projects (hybrid or electric cars) need to accomplish their goals, they try to hold it back by paying a lot of money, indeed, they break and change the laws” and “I think the lobby power is too big”),
the reoccurring common sense reasoning that at the end of the day, money is all that matters (“I just feel like Americans want to be good at what they’re good at, and so they don’t care about climate change, because how’s that gonna help me?”, “how am I gonna profit from that?”, “the other option is to just not do it, but that’s not possible, because every country wants to be big and wealthy” and “everyone is always greedy on their own money and so people will change”)
and the reoccurring defensive phrases “my political view is liberal” and “I’m a liberal as well, a fan of the free market”, validate the view that everything can and will always be reduced to mere economical interests. Which counts for climate change as well. Just like everything else, climate change is an economical issue, which exists (“just a commercial thing for businesses to make money”) and (literally) extinguishes in economy.
Because, although the preliminary phrases point out otherwise, the key to come to grips with climate change appears to be in economy as well. By stating that “all the news is on the economy right now”, but that the current economical situation could actually be a chance to solve climate change (“I think it would be nice, now that we have this economical crisis, that the leaders of the world would gather together, in their G20 or whatever, and decide that, come on, we now have this other crisis, so when we invest, just invest in sustainable cars or whatever”, “right now Obama is talking about to jumpstart the economy by investing in infrastructure, which would be a really good opportunity to invest in more energy efficient infrastructure, like solar or renewable sources of energy” and “now is the moment, with General Motors and Chrysler being bankrupt and all, you see, the government puts money in it… but they have to say, we help you, but you have to make smaller cars or cars that are less polluting”),
by repeatedly providing ideas on how to solve climate change in an economical way (“the government has to obligate the people to have certain lifestyles, like if you don’t take your bicycle out tomorrow, you get a fine”, “or somehow the world leaders from America, Europe, Russia and so on, they must regulate the price of wood, the market price should go up, it’s so stupid to burn it, because it’s very valuable”, “the same goes for the price of oil and so on, it has to go up”, “the prices of oil and wood should rise” and “or again, make the price of wood higher, because I want to buy a bush”),
by providing perspectives on how to even profit from climate change (“Swim in my backyard in a few years? Yeah, we should invest… in the shipping industry…”)
and by providing an actual, tangible example of a company that profited from climate change (“I don’t think there are countries that benefit, but I do think there will be companies that benefit enormously from climate change, just think about the Toyota Prius, for example”) climate change becomes an issue which exists and extinguishes in economy. Because, on the one hand climate change still exists due to economical interests, rather than environmental interests. But on the other hand, these same economical interests might be the key to the solution of climate change.