Master Thesis Media & Journalism

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4.5 Dutch Public Discourse on Climate Change: Erasmus University

Now that I know what the Dutch media discourse on climate change looks like, I would like to know how the Dutch public discourse on climate change is constructed. And so I have analysed the interview with the Erasmus 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 the consequences of climate change, instead of arguing whether it is an issue in the first place, indicates that they already take climate change for granted. No discussion needed.

  • The comment “I think we are aware of the situation and the problem we have” literally lays out this thought.

  • Moreover, by immediately mentioning an incessant list of extensive effects, (“hole in the ozone layer”, “gulf stream is gonna stop”, “whole new climate” and “extension of animal species”), by talking in terms of extremity, severity and urgency (“dangerous to lie in the sun”, “UV radiation is dangerous”, “big impact”, “big influence”, “big topic” and “if we don’t start changing things now, it’s gonna be fatal”) and by constantly referring to climate change as a “problem” and even a “crisis”, the verbal repertoire of a climate crisis is literally, deliberately constructed.

Nevertheless, the overall, typical structure of the text emphasizes the idea of a debate, with Melanie, Bianca and Naomi speaking on alternating turns. The respondents underline the controversy of climate change

  • by repeatedly referring to sources with specific perspectives on climate change (which is suggested by sentences such as “I’ve heard”, “it’s a theory” and “my sources”),

  • by emphasizing that their opinions are based on a controversial subject, through terms such as “to me”, “I think” and “personally”,

  • by pointing out contradictory parties through phrases such as “they are saying” and “a lot of people”,

  • but also by using more subtle, invalidating phrases, such as “but”, “while” and “nevertheless”.

  • But most importantly, the idea of climate change as a subject of controversy is validated via the final comment of the interview: “So a lot of people might take climate change as a given, while maybe it’s not. All of these different aspects which you can get into with so much detail. It’s really hard.”

And then there is also the view of climate change as a subject of uncertainty

  • which is validated through the continuous repetition of the words “I don’t know” (“I don’t know if you say it like that”, “I don’t know, it’s a theory”, “I don’t know, what’s your view?” and “I don’t know, I’m not an expert on it”).

  • The defensive phrase “I’m not an expert on it” is indeed repeated a couple of times, which indicates that the respondents are already making excuses for not being certain on climate change.

  • 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” 54 times, which is almost twice every minute. That’s a lot.

  • However, the overall tone of the interview seems less insecure than in the Berkeley interview. The Berkeley students bear out doubt, by continuously asking questions back. The Erasmus students on the other hand, seem to be somewhat more declarative, decisive and secure about their sayings, with less question marks and more exclamation marks.


First of all, there is the conception of climate change being a natural phenomenon

  • which is constructed through a couple of comments, in which climate change is denotatively defined as a natural phenomenon, such as “it’s a natural cause”, “it’s natural that it will happen again” and “in the past it was a natural cause”.

  • Furthermore, by talking of climate change terms of “it happens”, “it occurs” and “it becomes”, as though it is not caused by something or someone, but happens on itself, by arguing that you have to “look much further”, for “there were more ice ages over the past thousands of years, so I think it’s natural that it will happen again” and by using the specific phrases “a long time ago”, “in the past”, “before” and “a thousand years ago”, the respondents construct a sense of overwhelming grandiosity and almightiness. Climate change is a natural phenomenon.

  • Or at least, “it’s definitely a factor which should be taken into consideration”. However, the Erasmus students are no true “cycle fans”. They rather see the cycle as one of the causes of climate change

The verbal repertoire of climate change being a human-induced problem seems to be dominant throughout the entire interview.

  • First of all, by intensely invalidating the view of climate change as a mere natural phenomenon (“the ice didn’t just melt like that”, “I don’t think that people had such a huge influence on another ice age, like we have now” and “now we are contributing much more, so that it’s not natural anymore”) the idea that humans contribute to climate change is emphasized.

  • Subsequently, the term CO2 continuously casually re-occurs, as though it is taken for granted to be the cause of climate change (“something with huge CO2 emissions” and “it had to do with the CO2 level”). So instead of arguing whether CO2 is a cause of climate change in the first place, it is seen as a natural, sound, sure thing. No discussion needed.

  • Furthermore, phrases such as “I think it is a good car, which diminishes the CO2 emission”, “they subsidize car manufactures to make more climate responsible cars”, “initiatives to make CO2 emissions more expensive” and “we invested in coal mines, so instead of taking a proactive approach, we took a step back again” connotatively contribute to the construction of climate change as a human-induced problem, for they argue CO2 emissions should be made more expensive, which implies CO2 emissions are bad, which implies CO2 emissions cause climate change, which implies humans cause climate change.

  • Moreover, by repeatedly talking of “we”, “us” and “people” the idea that climate change is a human-induced problem is indirectly confirmed. And finally, when asked to define climate change, the respondents immediately, literally answer that climate change has to do with “the higher degree of CO2, the pollution in the air”. Enough said.

When asked when climate change started, the respondents answer “it was the industrial revolution that started to have an effect on climate change”. When asked who causes climate change, the respondents answer “the industries in general”.

  • Due to this repetition of the term “industries”,

  • due to the long list of actual, recognizable examples of these industries (“from car manufacturers to Microsoft, from electricity to coal mines, everything” and “most of the companies, like Shell”)

  • and due to the ideological dilemmas “if you want to be profitable, you have to produce and you have to use energy and CO2”, “every company that wants to be profitable has something to do with CO2 emissions”, “if you see them putting that so called sustainable image out there, that they’re trying to do as much as they can, behind the scenes they go for the cheap way” and “at the end of the day that’s any business’ best interest” (which repeatedly refer to the typical economical term “profit”), the critical comment of climate change basically being caused by economical interests becomes convincing.

And then there is also the verbal repertoire that climate change is a problem, caused by some countries more than others

  • which is validated through sentences such as “developed countries mostly outsource to less developed countries”, “developed countries produce more than others”, “developed countries have more industry, so they produce more” and “developed countries use a lot more energy, because their development is obviously far more greater than less developed countries”,

  • in which developed countries are repeatedly called “developed”,

  • in which developed countries are repeatedly linked to exceeding words such as “more” and “greater”,

  • and in which developed countries are active, for they “use”, “produce” and “outsource” to the passive. And so the respondents covertly construct the climate-change-caused-by-some-countries-more-than-others-verbal repertoire.

Especially the US. This thought is literally laid out in the sentence “because the US is one of the major players in CO2 emissions”. In this case the term CO2 emissions is closely linked and almost similar to the term climate change.

  • Besides, by referring to the whole Kyoto Protocol issue in negative phrases such as “they couldn’t stick to it”,

“they couldn’t do it” and “they didn’t want to”,

  • by referring to Bush in negative phrases such as “Bush didn’t want sign the contract”

  • and by linking the US to merely critical, economical comments such as “a large amount of that went to the US”,

“the US as a country with companies that are so profitable” and “if we were to cut these emissions to the degree that we could stick to the Protocol, it would render not at all profitable, so it would have left the US in a worse state than it actually is” the US is depicted as some evil money-grubber, which causes climate change.

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 the hole in the ozone layer (“the hole in the ozone layer above Antarctica” and “the UV rates, which are now getting through the ozone layer”), the disappearance of the gulf stream (“the gulf stream is gonna stop in a few years time”, “the whole gulf stream is gonna stop flowing” and “the stream of the water, the cold water which melts in the North is gonna interfere with the gulf stream, which is gonna die down”), the sea level rising (“with the rising water level, because of the melting North Pole and Antarctica” and “the special projects that are being set up to help with the increase of the water level”) and the increase in temperature (“climate change is the increase in temperature” and “to me, the same words come to mind actually, especially the warming of the earth”).

  • Furthermore, as apposed to the rule, the respondents also refer to the extension of animal species, which is also a severe natural consequence (“because, their whole existence is based on the way of life now, but with the gulf stream, the mating and the fish come in a certain period of time, and when they don’t come other species are unable to eat and that’s the end of their existence”).

  • Moreover, the remarkable fact that when the respondents discuss climate change, they automatically, interchangeably use the term “global warming” (“but global warming, or climate change, to me it’s a big topic” and “they’ve been experiencing global warming for years now”) implicates that climate change is principally linked to natural consequences, instead of for instance economical or social effects.

  • Subsequently, by linking these natural consequences to intense, excessive, frightening phrases such as “the gulf stream is gonna stop”, “there’s gonna be a whole new climate”, “species are gonna die down”, “it will be the end of their existence”, “not only humans, but also animal species will stop to exist”, “land is disappearing”, “coral reefs are dying out”, but also more personally concerning comments such as “it’s getting more dangerous to lie in the sun”, “the UV radiation is very dangerous”, “the UV radiation is only gonna get worse”, “huge weather changes”, “floods, droughts, hurricanes” and “huge hailstones, in the size of tennis balls” (which consist of alarming and therefore appealing words such as “huge”, “major”, “end”, “death” and “dangerous”) the sense of severity is strengthened.

  • And also by mentioning perceptible periods of time (“the gulf stream is gonna stop in a few years time”, “we don’t have a country anymore in a few years”, “you saw the whole climate change within one week” and “in just one day New York turned into another ice age”)

  • and by mentioning specific places, which are close to home (“Europe will again be an ice age” and we have to build dikes “so that Holland can still survive in the next few years”) 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 this documentary” and “I saw this movie”) the respondents back up their argument.

Another repertoire, climate change is a problem, which effects some countries more than others, is validated

  • by toning down our own situation (“we observe that today is a nice day, while last year it was bloody hot or cold” and “we can get food anywhere”), and comparing it to relatively worse situations (“in Africa, with their crops, if they have a bad year of harvest they know the consequences, they know it’s another year of no food, no income”).

  • Furthermore, by referring to other, faraway lands like Africa as well as Australia, in disturbing terms such as “so warm”, “too hot”, “too cold”, “problems with the water” and “people will starve to death”, by talking about those countries in the intransitive clause of “are affected”, as though they are weak compared to less effected countries, and by using more subtle, contradictory phrases such as “whereas” and “on the one hand”, the respondents implicitly put the countries that are relatively less affected opposite to the countries that are relatively more affected.

  • Moreover, by referring to a so called expert (“I talked to a person who was an investor in Africa”) this argument becomes more reliable.

  • And finally, the literal lines that “there are different areas in the world which are affected more, like the North Pole and the South Pole, where the ice is melting the most”, “we’re not experiencing it and dealing with the consequences as much as the people in other parts of the world” and “so the effects would be much harsher there” completely construct the idea that climate change affects some countries more than others.

Nevertheless, by repeatedly casually, though alarmingly mentioning the Netherlands as an affected area, through phrases such as “you can also see the impact of climate change a lot in the Netherlands”, “especially being said that the Netherlands is one of the countries which will be affected the most” and “so that Holland can still survive in the next few years”, which contain worrisome words such as “impact”, “a lot”, “the most” and “survive”, and by sketching the scary image of “the Netherlands is one of the areas that has to pay a lot more attention…”, “if we keep up this level, it could happen within twenty years. When we’re alive actually. Seriously. I think it could”, which contains an actual, tangible doom date, the idea that climate change will affect the Netherlands becomes plausible.


Although climate change affects the Netherlands, climate change should be solved globally.

  • By making an excuse for the Netherlands, by way of describing it as “such a small country” and linking this description to terms of impossibility, such as “doesn’t”, “we can’t” and “we won’t”,

  • by mentioning a global initiative (Earth Hour) and labelling it as “big” and “we participated”,

  • and when it comes to solutions, by constantly talking in terms of “the government” and “the people”, instead of “we” or “the Netherlands” the respondents implicitly construct an idea of climate change, which should be solved globally. Moreover, the common sense, romanticized, courageous comment “it’s about doing it globally” literally lays out this thought.


  • by painting a picture of a “bad before”, which is emphasized by past tenses and negative terms, such as “they couldn’t stick to it”, “they couldn’t do it” and “didn’t want sign the contract”,

  • and by subsequently painting a contrasting picture of a “good ever after”, which is emphasized by showing faith towards the US in general, faith that this time the US will be able to live by Kyoto’s rules (“I think they can take smaller steps to maybe in the future being able to apply to the Protocol”) and by showing faith towards Obama in specific (“but I think that since Obama is president… he wants to take the step to sign the Protocol”), and by positively qualifying this as “a big step”, the respondents construct climate change, which will finally, really be solved by the US and Obama.

However, the leading line of thought seems to be that climate change is a problem, which should be solved by changing people’s mindsets.

  • By repeatedly dropping the typically psychological phrases “awareness” (“so that they become more aware”, “I think they should try even harder to make people more aware” and “if we become more and more aware of how important it is to consider the climate change aspects”), “understand” (I don’t think that they understand” and “they just don’t understand what’s going on”), “conscious” (“make them consciously aware of this huge problem we have”) and “mentality” (“but just maybe changing the mentality of the people”),

  • and linking these mental terms to excessive, exceeding adjectives, such as “more”, “improve” and “increase”, the significance of what people know and think of climate change, and the significance of changing this, is emphasized.

  • Especially the part where the respondents sketch an image of the “bad before”, when people “weren’t aware of the consequences of what they were doing”, “weren’t aware of what effect their operations were having on the climate” and “weren’t really into seeing it” (which is underlined by the continuous repetition of “weren’t”),

  • and subsequently sketch an image of the “improved present”, when “it finally became an awareness thing”, “people got more involved”, “there’s a lot more attention being paid to this, because it’s taken a lot more serious now” and “we are aware of the situation and the problem we have” (which is underlined by the continuous repetition of “more”),

  • although “they should try even harder to make people more aware of it, because people are aware, but they don’t act like it” and “you drive your car”, constructs the idea that people are relatively aware of climate change, but not enough (which is underlined by the very concrete and recognizable example of driving a car). And improving this, changing people’s mindsets even more, is the key to the solution of climate change.

Moreover, the respondents seem to agree on the media as a mechanism to increasing this awareness.

  • First of all, by repeatedly referring to media sources to validate their arguments (“I’m not an expert on it, but I saw this documentary about it”, “I’m not an expert on that, but I’ve read some articles on it”, “I don’t know if my sources are correct, but I saw this movie” and “I don’t know, it’s a theory”) the respondents implicitly qualify the media as being experts, or at least having the potential of being experts on climate change.

  • Furthermore, by invalidating the argument that the media provide a distorted image of climate change (“I think the problem is also, to a certain extent, criticized of being overrated. They are saying the media are taking the problem to a whole different level, that it’s not that serious. That’s what’s happening right now. But since it has come to a consensus between scientists, I don’t think it’s being over problematized. I think it should be made aware as it is now. Because it is a problem that is occurring fast and becoming more of a problem. So I don’t think it’s overrated.”),

  • by mentioning the media’s general efforts (“you can see it in the media, I mean, there’s a lot more attention being paid to this, because it’s taken a lot more serious now” and the repeatedly reference to the increased “media attention”)

  • and by mentioning the media’s specific efforts (“The Incovenient Truth, which was released by Al Gore and the other movie, which was presented by Leonardo DiCaprio, what was it again?” and “Say, if you would see a news coverage, like really serious on CNN, telling the story of this problem, I think it’s coming from a really reliable source”) the idea of the media doing a good job is constructed.

  • And finally, when asked what the role of the media is within the climate change debate, the respondents start celebrating the media’s potential to even solve climate change, which is emphasized through pressing, hopeful phrases such as “the media has an influence”, “maybe the media are a tool to help”, “I think the media could be huge”, “I think the media play a really major role in making us aware”, “that’s how people find it out, through the media” and “I think the media are the first and main actor in solving this problem”.

  • The respondents start of rather careful (which is underlined by hesitating terms such a “maybe”, “could be” and “an influence”), but conclude that the media are (part of) the solution to increase awareness (which is underlined by strong, certain terms such as “huge”, “first” and “main).

Besides, the respondents seem to agree on education being effective to increase awareness as well.

  • By repeatedly literally mentioning the term “education” (“our children, we have to educate them some way” and “the first step to get people educated on what is the actual problem on hand and what can we do to deal with it”) and by repeatedly mentioning terms that are related to education, such as “school” (“at school you have subjects that are involved with climate change” and “maybe making it a more aware problem in say, school subjects”), “college” (“going to college”) and “knowledge” (“if you have a little bit of knowledge about something, you don’t take it for granted”), the respondents stress the importance of education.

  • Moreover, by drawing a contrast between the uneducated, which is “the major part of the Netherlands”, and which “are unaware”, “ignorant of what’s going on”, “don’t understand what’s going on”, “don’t want to know”, “don’t believe the media”, “think it’s just propaganda”, “that it’s just an overreaction” and “people who would read an article, see a message somewhere, and think, what the hell, you know…” and the educated, which is “only such a small percentage of the whole population of the Netherlands”, the respondents construct a conception of most people being undereducated, being numb, and so being unaware of climate change.

  • Furthermore, by taking themselves as an example of the educated (which is emphasized by the excuses “no offense, we are all educated” and “so in a harsh way, it’s actually all about how to reach the uneducated” and by continuously talking of the educated in terms of “us” and the uneducated in terms of “they”) and by stating that “we know a little bit of what’s going on, we don’t know everything, and we are the ones going to college” the respondents implicitly presume that the greater part of the people must know nothing.

  • And by finally wondering how to make these people more aware of climate change (“you reach us, but how do you reach the other part?”), the respondent literally lay out the thought that “maybe by making it a more aware problem in say, school subjects. Like, in English, concentrate on articles on climate change. I don’t know, it could be involved in school. They would have to think about it, how they could target these groups of people, who are not being reached otherwise.” Because educated people “think about”. But “up to the point that I don’t have any knowledge about it, I take it for granted”, which is why we need to increase awareness through education to solve climate change.

But despite the dominant suggestions to solve climate change globally and by changing people’s mindsets, above all, the respondents emit a tone of uncertainty, of pessimism. As though they are not sure how to solve climate change or whether

it will be solved at all.

  • First of all, there is the view of climate change as a problem, not being solved by the Netherlands, which is validated by stating that “we can do something about it, but we won’t, because the rest of the world doesn’t” and by providing the very well-known and much disputed example of the Netherlands stopping their investments in “windmills and stuff”. Furthermore, by linking the Netherlands to negative, excessive phrases such as “didn’t invest”, “huge CO2 emissions”, “worse for the environment” and “instead of taking a proactive approach, we took a step back again”, and by endorsing the typical prejudice of the Netherlands being greedy, through terms such as “instead of saying, yeah, it’s more expensive” (as though it’s really not that big a deal) and “they just took the cheaper way”, the Netherlands is depicted as not taking hold of climate change.

  • Besides, there is the view of climate change as a problem, not being solved by businesses, which is validated by stating that “businesses pay the bills for the pollution they cause, but I don’t think they really want to quit what they’re doing now though, quit their processes, their manufacturing”, by continuously surrounding companies with an air of negativity (which is underlined by the continuous repetition of the terms “not” and “don’t”), by repeatedly referring to their “costs” and “profits”, as though they are mere money-grubbers and by providing the very well-known and much disputed example of Shell (“it was really obvious that they would put a lot of effort into marketing the idea of a sustainable company, that was really involved in making a change” but “if you see them doing that, putting that image out there, that they’re trying to do as much as they can, behind the scenes they go for the cheap way”). Furthermore, by making the critical, common sense comment that “at the end of the day money is any business’ best interest”, the idea of solving climate change not being prioritized by big business, becomes convincing.

  • And finally, one respondent seems to be somewhat cynical towards the notion that climate change will ever be solved, let alone that climate change should be solved in the first place: “but Bianca, do you really think that if we don’t take these measures here in Holland, that we don’t have a country anymore in a few years?”

  • By continuously, critically asking questions back (“you think so?” and “well, are you aware?”),

  • by talking in a pessimistic tone (“well…” and “you still drive your car…”),

  • by relativizing some of the solutions to climate change, such as Earth Hour (“not that an hour will reduce the impact”, “I don’t think it has that much effect though, cause, I mean we can switch off everything for one hour, but it’s happening daily every hour in the world, so one hour wouldn’t make a difference” and “I don’t think that by switching off the light for one hour, people will change their mentality”),

  • by referring to people’s deeply rooted nature (“from a social point of view it’s just really selfish and really bad” and “I think people are too selfish though”),

  • by providing the example of the Toyota Prius (which is supposed to diminish CO2 emissions, “but perhaps the production of the care produces as much CO2 as the car itself, so that in the end, you’re not better of”),

  • by providing the example of the “smoking kills” campaign (“it doesn’t work, for it makes them aware, but they already know smoking kills, before they start smoking”),

  • by repeatedly arguing that “you still drive your car”, “people will go on using the car, instead of public transport” and “well, they might think twice, but they still take the car as well, I know my dad does”, by repeatedly arguing that “people are aware, but they don’t act like it”,

  • by talking in a very negative tone (which is emphasized through the repetition of the terms “not” and “don’t”)

  • and finally, by drawing a dooming draft of the future (“I think we are aware of the situation and the problem we have. But I don’t think people live sustainable and will never live sustainable. Because, they don’t think about future generations. Well, they say they do, but again, they’re selfish.”) the idea of climate change, which, in the end, will never be solved, becomes convincing.

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