By analysing both De Volkskrant articles and the Erasmus University interview, I now know what the Dutch media discourse and the Dutch public discourse on climate change looks like. By subsequently comparing these discourses, that is
the articles’ views on climate change and the respondents’ views on climate change and how they are validated through structure and lexicon, I can conclude whether the Dutch media discourse is an in influenced influence of the Dutch public discourse and the other way around.
Both the Volkskrant articles and Erasmus University students immediately turn to the effects and solutions of climate change, which implicates they accept climate change as an issue, in need of a solution. Moreover, a lot of articles link climate change to intense, excessive phrases and continuously repeat the actual, literal denotation of “klimaatcrisis”. And although the public acknowledges the controversy of climate change, which is emphasized by repeatedly referring to sources with specific perspectives on climate change and by emphasizing that their opinions are based on a controversial subject, and although the public acknowledges the uncertainty of climate change, which is emphasized through the continuous repetition of the defensive phrases “I think”, “I don’t know” and “I’m not an expert on it”, the respondents are relatively declarative, decisive and secure on the conception of a climate crisis, which is constructed by immediately mentioning a long list of extensive effects, by talking in terms of extremity and urgency, and by referring to climate change as a “problem” or a “crisis”.
Almost all articles repeatedly, randomly refer to the term “CO2”, linking it to the severe consequences of climate change, as well as to the solution of climate change, that is, reducing CO2 emissions, which all in all, contributes to the construction of CO2’s connotative meaning: the cause of climate change. At the same time, the nonchalant, natural remarks on driving, fishing and deforestation, which are all threats brought on by humans, connotatively construct the idea of climate change being caused by humans. And although the public denotatively defines climate change as a “natural phenomenon” and at times talks intransitively, as though climate change is not caused by something or someone, but happens on itself,
the sentence “it’s definitely a factor which should be taken into consideration” suggests it has taken over the verbal repertoire of climate change being a human-induced problem, which is constructed through the continuous, but casual re-occurrence of the term “CO2” and the claim that 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 referring to “we”, “us” and “people” the respondents connotatively contribute to the construction of climate change as a human-induced problem. Besides, the repetition of the term “industries”, the long list of actual, recognizable examples of these industries and the ideological dilemma “if you want to be profitable, you have to produce and you have to use energy and CO2” construct the critical comment of climate change basically being caused by economical interests. Then there is also the verbal repertoire that climate change is a problem, caused by some countries more than others, which is validated by repeatedly calling developed countries “developed” and by repeatedly linking these developed countries to exceeding words and active phrases, for they “use”, “produce” and “outsource” to the passive. Especially the US, a verbal repertoire which is validated by repeatedly, literally laying it out, by referring to the whole Kyoto Protocol issue in negative phrases and by linking the US to merely critical, economical comments, creating some evil money-grubber, which causes climate change.
Almost all articles argue that climate change has severe natural consequences. By communicating these consequences in typically over the top terms, by linking these terms to intense, excessive adjectives and alarming arguments, which include actual facts, figures and forecasts and dropping the dawning Dutch dike bursts as the symbol of climate change in the Netherlands, the consequences of climate change suddenly become a lot closer and more concrete. On the other hand, the idea that developing countries will suffer the most from climate change, which is emphasized through terms of passiveness and vulnerability, by referring to well-known conflict zones, connecting these to intense terms and metaphors, such as “trouble in paradise”, and by creating a disturbing, pitiful picture of actual effects (“zeevogels werden levend verbrand”) the overall opinion of climate change leading to disasters is validated. The public perspective seems to be exactly the same. When it comes to effects, the dominating verbal repertoire views climate change as a problem with severe natural consequences as well, which is constructed through the continuous repetition of some standard, typical terms as well, by linking these to intense, excessive, frightening phrases as well and by picturing perceptible periods and places as well. Another repertoire, climate change affecting some countries more than others, is validated by toning down our own situation and comparing it to relatively worse situations, in disturbing terms and intransitive clauses, as though they are weak compared to the less affected. Nevertheless, by repeatedly casually, though alarmingly mentioning the Netherlands as an affected area, with worrisome words and actual, tangible doom dates, the idea that climate change will affect the Netherlands becomes pretty plausible as well.
When it comes to structure, almost all articles immediately and mainly focus on the solutions of climate change, which implicates these are considered most considerable. First of all, there is the view that climate change can be solved through technical adjustments, which is validated through the conspicuous constant re-occurrence of the same long list of exclusively technical theories, including declarative, strong, scientifically solid, though sometimes symbolic, intensified, romanticized phrases. Moreover, the continuous repetition of the term “duurzaamheid” connotatively, though carefully constructs the idea of solving climate change technically. A lot of articles also argue that climate change should be solved on a higher level, which is emphasized by the words “we” and “worldwide”, by referring to Obama in hopeful phrases, as though he is the saver, by repeatedly referring to the US’ attendance at the Copenhagen conference, as though this time they will surely solve climate change, by constantly repeating the term “overheid” and by linking the Green Deal to promising phrases. However, some articles argue that a fundamental first step is to change people’s mindsets, which is emphasized by repeatedly referring to climate change as a psychological problem, by cynically stating that “een paar spaarlampen zullen daar niets aan veranderen” and by critically commenting that “hoop kan verlammend werken”, meaning we should change hope to cope with climate change into an entire different way of thinking.
Above all, the media emit a tone of uncertainty and pessimism, as though they are not sure how to solve climate change or whether it can be solved at all, which is emphasized by denotatively defining “twijfel”, by connotatively carrying on “kan”, by using excessively negative phrases, by cynically heading that “gezeten voor de haard redt Gordon de wereld”, as though it is a simple matter of keeping up appearances, by convincingly connecting the word “groen” to critical comments and so appealing to one’s “groene” conscience, by repeatedly referring to Shell in negative terms and sarcastic sounding sentences, connoting that companies just don’t care, by emphasizing “we” and “ons”, comparing “us” to other countries and subsequently stimulating a sense of sorrow, as though the Netherlands are not solving climate change, and finally, by dropping the ideological dilemma “huiskamerprobleem in plaats van een Tweede Kamerprobleem”, which critically constructs climate change as a problem which certainly cannot be solved individually, and, all in all, actually cannot be solved at all.
Although the public does not attend to technical adjustments (which confirms the conception of climate change as a serious, scientific issue, which doesn’t reach the public debate), it has taken over the view that climate change should be solved globally, which is validated by making an excuse for the Netherlands, by linking it to terms of impossibility, by constantly talking in terms of “de overheid” and “het volk”, and by dropping the ideological dilemma “it’s about doing it globally”. Besides, by adapting to the overall faith in the US and Obama, the public connotatively constructs the idea that climate change should be solved on someone else’s initiative, instead of on the Netherlands’.
However, the leading line of thought seems to be that climate change should be solved by changing people’s mindsets. By repeatedly dropping typically psychological phrases, linking these to excessive, exceeding adjectives and by repeatedly referring to the very concrete and common sense comment “you still drive your car”, the respondents confirm that people are relatively aware of climate change, but not enough. Moreover, by repeatedly referring to media sources to validate their arguments and by subsequently celebrating the media’s potential to solve climate change, the public implicitly and explicitly validate the verbal repertoire that the media should increase awareness on climate change. Furthermore, by repeatedly literally mentioning the term “education” and terms that are related to education, the public validates the view that education should increase awareness on climate change.
But above all, just like the media, the public puts on a tone of uncertainty and pessimism, as though it is not sure how to solve climate change or whether it can be solved at all, which is emphasized by the very well-known example of the Netherlands stopping its investments in “windmills and stuff”, by endorsing the typical prejudice of the Netherlands being greedy, by linking it to negative, excessive phrases, by providing the much disputed example of Shell, by continuously surrounding companies with an air of negativity, by dropping the ideological dilemma “at the end of the day money is any business’ best interest”, by continuously, critically asking questions back, by talking in a pessimistic tone, by relativizing some of the solutions to climate change, by referring to people’s deeply rooted nature and finally, by drawing a dooming draft of the future, as though, in the end, climate change will never be solved. Not by the Netherlands. Not by businesses.
Not by the people. Not by anyone.
4.7 US Discourse on Climate Change Compared to Dutch Discourse on Climate Change:
A Difference of Influences, A Difference of Discourses
Comparatively recapitulating, both the US media and the US public define climate change as an issue, though a highly controversial issue, whereas both the Dutch media and the Dutch public automatically accept climate change to be a crisis. Both the US media and the US public construct climate change to be caused by CO2, hence by humans, and particularly China instead of the US, although the US public even wonders whether climate change is not natural, inevitable or excusable at all. The Dutch media and the Dutch public are pretty congenial on the causes of climate change, for they simply see CO2, brought on by humans, as the root reason, although the public even points out that climate change is caused because of economical interests, hence by some countries more than others, hence by the US.When it comes to consequences, the US media and the US public seem to agree that climate change affects nature, and that some parts of the world are affected more than others. Besides, the media construct a scale of economical consequences and so the public is pretty economically minded as well. In contrast, the Dutch media and the Dutch public are a little less like-minded, for although they both concentrate on the severe natural consequences of climate change, which will affect some countries more than others, such as the Netherlands, the media seem to stand still at the effects, whereas the public has long gone to the solutions. And so last, but certainly not least, for this is where the public and the media within the concerning countries respectively correspond the most and the least, and consequently, the concerning countries mutually deviate the most: the solutions to climate change. The US media and the US public both construct a sense of hope, as though climate change will finally, really be solved, by the US, by Obama, by the people, according to concrete, economical measures. The Dutch media and the Dutch public, on the other hand, construct a sense of pessimism, as though climate change cannot be solved. However, the media are relatively critical to this attitude, whereas the public is not critical at all and actually agrees. All in all, the Dutch just don’t know. However, if climate change was to be solved, it should be solved according to complex, technical (intangible) measures (the media), on a global level, instead of a national level and by changing people’s (intangible) mindsets (the public). But first, let’s have another look. What are the effects?
In the introduction I start by stating that climate change has moved from a public limbo to a hot crisis. Due to a row of remarkable events, such as hurricane Katrina, Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth”, Live Earth and the IPCC’s frightening forecasts, climate change has become an issue of immense international interest. From the Netherlands all the way to the US and back, it is now one of the most prominent topics within politics, the media and the public arena. And although science has come to consensus that humans have considerably contributed to climate change, these days there appears to be an enormous increase in criticism towards climate change. Did we really cause it? Is it a crisis? Is it an issue in the first place? And so, should we solve it? Everywhere everyone evermore has a certain image of, hence a certain opinion on climate change. And the number and nature of signals is nothing but increasing.
Most of the previous pieces on climate change address either media discourse or public discourse. I, on the other hand, am interested in the way these different discourses influence one another, and so I designed a theoretical framework in which they would finally forgather. I began by giving a broad, but general definition of “discourse”, a term which turned out to be very various and versatile, which is why I initially implemented the regarding reigning, and besides logical and surveyable twofold and divided discourse into “public discourse” and “media discourse”. Then I defined “discourse analysis”, which would be the marginal area where method and methodology meet. After again beginning by giving a general definition of “discourse analysis”, whereupon I went into the evolvement of the term, from the study of a static system into the study of an influenced influence, being both the public and the media and the other way around, the term “discourse analysis”, just like the term “discourse”, turned out to refer to multiple meanings, or at least lots of approaches, of which I attended to two.
By defining and subsequently combining CDA, which is generally used to analyze media discourse, and CDP, which is generally used to analyze public discourse, I could create an appropriate method for the regarding research on the different discourses on climate change.
In accordance with the theory, the method first makes a twofold, in which the US and Dutch media discourse and the US and Dutch public discourse are analyzed separately. For the media I selected one article every day during the month of March of respectively The New York Times and De Volkskrant. For the public I had interviews with respectively Berkeley University and Erasmus University students. On the concerning media discourses and public discourses I applied a combined CDA-CDP analysis, describing the distinct different views on the definition, causes, effects and solutions to climate change and how these views are validated. Subsequently, I crosswise compared the different domains of discourse (that is, media discourse and public discourse) and the different countries in which these different domains of discourse occur (that is, the US and The Netherlands). So that at last, I can indeed answer the research questions and, moreover, the research question.
5.2 Recapitulation Research Questions
Although the term “discourse” has a complex history and is used in lots of different ways by lots of different theorists, Foucault’s definition is probably the most expansive, exhaustive, hence the most exquisite. He defines discourse as the constitution of statements, which create a network of rules establishing what is meaningful, and so as something which produces something else, rather than something which exists in and of itself and which can be analyzed on its own. A discourse can be detected because of the systematicity of the ways of thinking and behaving which are formed within a particular context, and because of the effects of those ways of thinking and behaving. It is absolutely key to consider the terms “truth, power and knowledge”, for these are the context in which discourse comes about. However, discourse also defines them. Discourse is the limit of truth.
If Foucault would have distinguished the terms “media discourse” and “public discourse”, he would have defined them in lines with his general definition of discourse, and called them the complex collections of all statements produced by respectively the media and the public. Although discerning these different domains is valuable due to surveyability and intelligibility, when theorizing the terms it turns out they are not that odd at all. After all, both media discourse and public discourse are part of one dominant discourse, which exists in context. Both media discourse and public discourse are influenced influences, which influence and are influenced by one another as well.
Recapitulating, the US media mainly focus on the solutions to climate change, which, as well as the conspicuous controversy on the definition (is it a conspiracy?) and causes (is it China?) of climate change, suggests the US media are looking for excuses (it is a conspiracy, it is China) and escapes (let’s look at the solutions) to avert attention. Anything to keep the public from wondering: wasn’t the US one of the most prominent polluters in the world? Well, it worked. The US public’s most dominant discourses refer to unravelling repertoires, that is, despite the exact same controversy on the definition, causes and effects of climate change, the main subject is solutions.
As the matter of fact, the US media discourse on climate change can be clarified according to its broader cultural context. The remarkable fact it merely focuses on solutions and adopts an active atmosphere, can be connected to the fact that the US typically is a linear society, which devotes to development and progression, instead of a circular society, which continuously repeats history. The dominant discourses, which leave a leading role for the US in solving climate change, which send out hope towards Obama, which often offer merely economical measures (which are a lot more perceptible, hence performable, than terribly theoretical technical measures, since, in the end, the success of a solution definitely depends on whether it is economically feasible and even profitable) and which construct the conception that climate change can be solved by the people (according to the American Dream every individual determines its own destiny, and so everyone can make a change), can all be clarified according to the covering context in which they come about: the US society.
However, the US media discourse shapes the US society, that is the US public discourse, as well. My initial thesis of the US media having a high level of private ownership, hence a high level of lobbying, turns out to be true. The US media discourse is determined by a lot of different people with particular points of view. On the one hand, it seems as though the US media are a mechanism for companies to convince and control the US public, as though they are spending their tax-money wisely. On the other hand, the US media are a mouth-piece for Obama to show and stimulate the people, that together, we will do better. Yes we can, solve climate change.
And again, the US public buys it, for the US public discourse can be defined by the exact same views and validations as the US media discourse, that is, hope, action and ascent: the characteristics of the context in which it is constructed.
Whereas the US media discourse definitely influences the US public discourse and the other way around, the Dutch media discourse and the Dutch public discourse are not that consistent at all. Although the different Dutch discourses both accede climate change to be a crisis, caused by humans, especially Americans, the Dutch media still seem to stand still at the effects, whereas the Dutch public has long gone to the solutions. And although the different Dutch discourses can both be characterized by a high level of pessimism, they are not pessimistic about the same thing.
For one thing, the Dutch media discourse completely concentrates and actually contrives on the effects of climate change, wondering what the effects are and whether we need to expansively explore them, before we can fix them. This reflection on the effects of climate change, instead of effectively focussing on the solutions, can be clarified according to the broader cultural context in which the concerning discourse is constructed. The Netherlands typically is a trading nation, which waits, sits and sees how to take advantage of other nation’s notions. The Netherlands typically positions itself as dependent and reticent, which corresponds to the resolving repertoires the Dutch media do provide, constructing climate change as a global problem in need of a global solution, often offering merely technical measures (which are relatively less perceptible, hence performable, than concrete economical measures, since, in the end, the success of a solution definitely depends on whether it is economically feasible and even profitable) and constructing the conception that climate change can be solved by changing people’s mindsets (which is not an easy, concrete thing to do, especially in the, literally, cool Netherlands).
On the other hand, the Dutch media discourse can be characterized by complains. Duyvendak, van Dieren and small businesses complain that the government and big businesses fail to solve climate change. In lines with the typical Dutch device freedom of speech, this counter repertoire reacts to the typical Dutch wait-sit-see-and-copy mentality, blaming the government and big businesses of falsely focussing on short spaces of time, instead of the long run, and so being penny wise, pound foolish. Moreover, these so called complainers criticize the dominating discourse of “but we’re such a small country”, by referring to the Dutch disseminated open mindedness and principle of progression, and by pessimistically proclaiming that this time the Netherlands should bear out its big mouth as well. However, most of the media remain musing. They don’t know. They need to have another look.
The Dutch public discourse is pretty pessimistic as well. But not so much to the notion that the Netherlands doesn’t do anything, as to the notion that the Netherlands can do something at all. The Dutch public discourse can be characterized by a high level of understanding and remission towards the Dutch deficiency in solving climate change, because well, “we’re such a small country”. And although this discourse differs from the Dutch media discourse, it can be clarified according to the exact same broader cultural context. The remarkable fact that the Dutch public is particularly passive and pessimistic towards conquering climate change, can be connected to the fact that the Netherlands typically is a trading nation. It has no high expectations, pretensions or presumptuousness, like the US. The Netherlands is more modest, more middle of the road-ish, which corresponds to the dominant down to earth “doe maar normaal, dan doe je al gek genoeg” atmosphere and the resolving repertoires the Dutch public does provide, constructing climate change as a problem, which can be solved globally and by changing people’s mindsets. As though, right now, the public just doesn’t care.
Just like the US media discourse and the US public discourse, the Dutch media discourse and the Dutch public discourse depend on the context in which they are constructed. Both the Dutch media and the Dutch public are awaiting and indifferent, which is typically Dutch. However, apart from validating this view, the Dutch media also supply space to criticize the current climate change impasse, which is actually typically Dutch as well. Nevertheless, this pessimism does not construct the same sort of pessimism among the public, hence the influence of the Dutch media is relatively limited.
At the beginning of this thesis I proposed the following research question…
The Climate Change Controversy
What is the media discourse and public discourse on climate change within both the US and the Netherlands,
and what is the relationship between the two kinds of discourse and between the two countries?
By virtue of the afore answered specific sub questions, I can provide the following solution to the research question…
The US media discourse on climate change can be characterized by a sense of hope and activeness. It focuses on the solutions to climate change, constructing the idea that the US should take initiative in solving climate change, according to concrete, economical measures. The US public discourse corresponds to the US media discourse, for it also focuses on the solutions to climate change, expressing hope towards the US and concentrating on concrete economics. On the contrary,
the Dutch media discourse on climate change can be characterized by a sense of pessimism and passiveness. It focuses
on the effects of climate change, for it provides a couple of abstract, technical measures with the marginal note that these solutions need to be tested on their effects. And so, for now, the Dutch depend on other countries’ initiatives. The Dutch public discourse corresponds to the Dutch media discourse, insofar it is also passive, pessimistic and provides abstract, mental measures. However, above all, the Dutch public discourse constructs climate change as impossible to solve,
whereas the Dutch media discourse provides space to be critical towards this notion, a controversy which doesn’t affect the Dutch public discourse. Concluding, the US media discourse and US public discourse correspond, for they are part of one another’s context and so they continuously influence one another, whereas the Dutch media discourse and the Dutch public discourse do not correspond, exactly because of the context in which they both come about.