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Discourse Networks Around Climate Change

The field of discourse represents the distribution of concepts (perceptions, beliefs, knowledge) and their meanings (interpretations, evaluations, frames, emotions) about prevalent in a society (Broadbent 2010). While resources and support are often traded between actors in a social network, so too are concepts and meanings, including an understanding of scientific principles. Engagement with science and an

understanding of scientific inquiry have become embedded as norms within a number of societies around the globe (Beck 2002; Höijer et al. 2006). Individuals engage in discourse over science not only through formal education, but also increasingly though informal means, such as the news media and interpersonal communication (Van Dijk 2011). Organizations too must engage discourse over science, though the manner in which scientific knowledge and methods of scientific inquiry are institutionalized and normalized within organizations is not well understood. Watson (2002) contends that organizational learning is poorly conceptualized, meaning a systematic investigation of how organizations process and gain knowledge has been difficult to implement. Compounding this deficit in knowledge is the fact that the research that has begun to investigate how organizations learn has focused on the transmission of cultural, financial, or legal knowledge rather than beliefs institutionalized through gained scientific knowledge.

Communication networks are described by Hajer and Versteeg (2005) as discourse spaces where actors explain themselves in order to exert influence over other actors. Structural characteristics of discourse networks are important for understanding how effectively scientific knowledge is communicated between actors within a communication network. The density of a social network is the most widely used measure of group cohesion, with denser networks having more ties between actors (Blau 1977). Essentially, density quantifies network “knittedness” within SNA (Bott 1957). Dense networks facilitate the dissemination of scientific information in a communication network by increasing the accessibility of information in the network (Abrahamson and Rosenkopf 1997). In addition, networks with high density promote the development of universal norms in regards to natural resource management and environmental policy; they also promote compliance with these norms (Coleman 1990).

Because the geophysical and climatological processes involved in climate change are complex and require a specialized scientific background to understand them, non-specialists must rely heavily on scientists to frame and explain the problem. Scientists were relied upon to communicate risks on a number of environmental issues to a diverse network of actors during the latter half of the twentieth century. These issues included pesticide use, damage to the ozone layer and the impacts of radiation from nuclear weapons. However, faith in the scientific community has been heavily contested in regards to climate change. The framing of climate science as contentious rather than authoritative was facilitated by regulatory failures (Power 2007), an increasingly scientifically literate citizenry capable of questioning scientists (Nowotny et al. 2001), and a greater emphasis on individualization in a number of societies across the globe (Beck 1992). Scientific claims were no longer viewed as objective and scientists themselves were beginning to be viewed as untrustworthy. Climate scientists in particular began to be viewed as actors whose interests were in conflict with the interests of the public, the business community, and the state (Gouldson et al. 2007).

When information about climate change moves through the discourse field (contested or otherwise), evaluative norms come into play. Evaluative norms spread through discussion networks among organizations and individuals, as well as

Fig. 10.2 Discourse network on legitimacy of climate science within New Zealand press, 2007–2008

through mass and specialized media (Broadbent 2010). The discourse network diagrams pictured below (Figs. 10.2 and 10.3) show the positions of organizations within New Zealand and the United States respectively on this issue (square) of climate science between 2007–2008. These diagrams were created using the software tool Discourse Network Analyzer (DNA) (Leifeld 2011) where the size of each actor node (circles) represents the number of statements made about the issue within a sample of the nation's news media.

Within the New Zealand discourse network (Fig. 10.2) around the validity of climate science, the media portrayed a wide consensus on the domestic stage around the validity of climate change science. Organizational actors who accepted the evaluative norm that climate change was real and anthropogenic include Clark's government ministries, most political parties (Labour, National, and United Future

through statements to the press, Green, Māori, and New Zealand First through statements on television), as well as most research organizations (domestic and foreign)

Fig. 10.3 Discourse network on legitimacy of climate science within United States Prestige Press, 2007–2008

quoted by the press (Vaughter 2013). Organizational actors who rejected or questioned the evaluative norm that climate change was real included a variety of business lobbying groups, though no businesses themselves. The ACT Party is the only political party that refuted the validity of climate science, and the only research institute (the Heartland Institute) to refute it within the New Zealand press was from the United States. Within the New Zealand press, the discourse over the legitimacy of climate science is unquestioned by the government, and the majority of all research organizations and political parties.

Because the science supporting climate change appears well accepted by both the scientific community and political actors within the New Zealand press, the majority of debate about climate change covered by the press is not about operationalizing climate change as a problem, but rather on how to implement a solution. Clark's Labour government and its constituent ministries, in coalition with the Green and New Zealand First Parties, comprise the majority of actors cited as pushing for a series of legislative solutions. This coalition of actors often stressed the 'science-paradigm' for legitimizing their proposed actions through citing both the IPCC and NIWA data in setting the time frame for implementing these policies.

The opposition National Party in coalition with the Māori Party, accepted the scientific findings of the IPCC and NIWA as well and agreed climate change was an

issue New Zealand needed to address. However, both parties viewed the Labour coalition's time frame for implementing an economy-wide ETS as reactionary,

with negative repercussions for New Zealand's economy and the autonomy of indigenous groups. These actors often employed the 'economy-paradigm' by citing economic data from the New Zealand Institute to illustrate the costs of implementing an economy wide ETS as quickly as the Labour coalition wanted. Within this group of actors, the 'science-paradigm' was accepted but discounted in favor of the 'economy-paradigm.' Businesses and environmental NGOs stayed out any discussion of climate science, and instead advocated for or against specific pieces of climate legislation.

The discourse networks about anthropogenic climate change in the US (Fig. 10.3) contrast distinctly with those of New Zealand. In this discourse network the legitimacy of climate science is contested rather than accepted by government actors such as the Bush Administration. In addition, while the majority of research organizations within the New Zealand discourse network are quoted as supporting the legitimacy of climate science, there is a more even split between positions within the research organizations cited in the American discourse network. This spit frames climate science as more controversial, with reporting on both perspectives being more “balanced,” despite little controversy within the climate science community itself (Boykoff and Boykoff 2004).

Actors within the American discourse network around climate change science appear much more divided in whether they accept or reject the 'science-paradigm' The cultural backdrop of the United States can also be glimpsed within this discourse network, with three fundamentalist religious groups weighing in on the issue, while religious groups are absent within the more secular New Zealand discourse network.

By portraying the climate debate as unsettled, the U.S. discourse network around climate change presents an inherent contradiction in its coverage of the issue. The debate over climate science occurs alongside discussions regarding the best ways to mitigate climate change. These two debates challenge each other's legitimacy, the former implying that the latter is premature, and the latter assuming that the former has already been settled (Burridge et al. 2013). The further disagreement and contradiction between cited research organizations over climate change further fuels this fire by failing to present a unified or even majority viewpoint on the issue. As Boykoff and Boykoff (2004) note, this tendency for the media to represent support for and skepticism of climate science in roughly equal proportions is not representative of the positions held by the science community, which overwhelmingly accepts the science behind climate change. The overall effect of this contradiction in media coverage produces a diffuse and convoluted definition of the issue that fails to identify what element or elements of the problem are actually in question. And without a clear definition of the problem, neither the public nor their elected officials will be able to begin operationalizing solutions with any success.

While discourse around climate change within the US is prominent and contains a number of diverse organizational actors, the stances of the predominant actors in the debate are inconsistent in regards to discourse around climate change policy (Fig. 10.4). Decision makers appear to bend to whichever way their constituency blows, with little agreement within political parties as to how climate change should

Fig. 10.4 Discourse network on federal cap and trade legislation in United States Prestige Press, 2007–2008

be conceptualized, let alone handled. The reluctance of either political party to operationalize solutions to the problems presented by climate change is unsurprising, given the lack of agreement among decision makers as to what the problem is. The Democratic and Republican parties both agree and disagree with a federal cap and trade mandate, at the same time the Republican Party is portrayed as both agreeing and disagreeing that climate change is a problem.

Discourse networks can be used not only to probe actors' normative stances, but can be employed to examine how information is disseminated within a society. Organizational actors learn through their networks as well as peer pressure about what evaluations (frames) to adopting regards to climate change. The dissemination of science, especially climate science, is never an easy task, because science itself is an iterative process, with an understanding of what is 'objective reality' changing and evolving over time. Some organizations can influence the flow of information to actors in a network, imposing frames of understanding upon them, or the diffusion can be interactive, through rational discussion among peers. In other instances, diffusion of knowledge may be blocked by certain actors within a network, or the implications of this knowledge may be discounted if they run counter to other concerns a given organization is facing. Actors using different normative standards will necessarily disagree about what to do. Only some actors will accept sufficient responsibility to seriously think about, evaluate and act upon the issue (Broadbent 2010).

Fig. 10.5 Japanese organizational actors receiving information directly from the IPCC.

Tracing the flow of information and norms through networks will help indicate the function of organizations in a network. With optimal function, such forums may help the diffusion of scientific evidence and risk evaluation. For climate change, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has emerged as the predominant organization producing scientific information in relation to the topic. Thus, an examination of how information from the IPCC is disseminated from the organization into the civil society of a given nation can help inform how the IPCC functions as an actor within that nation's network of political actors. This in turn can illuminate how knowledge about climate change is conveyed within a society, and how actors evaluate the risks associated with climate change and construct responses to these risks. In the network data analysis, if a diversity of organizations have information networks to such a forum, and also hold scientific and action-oriented norms, it will indicate that the forums do indeed have the predicted function.

The network image in Fig. 10.5 shows how information about climate change was disseminated to a large and diverse set of organizations in Japan during 1997. The organizations include a large number of government agencies (blue squares), and large number of business organizations (yellow double triangles), some political parties (the brown and red diamonds), two environmental NGOs (green circles) and many media companies (white triangles).[1] The remaining brown triangle is Globe Japan, an international association of national politicians concerned about global environmental issues. The size of the icons reflects their perceived level of influence in Japan's domestic politics of global environmental issues (as determined by the number of respondents checking that organization as being “especially influential”). The communication network indicates that in the 1997 Japanese global environmental policy domain, the IPCC was among the big three influential organizations. Among the government ministries and agencies, the Air Quality Bureau of the Environmental Agency (AQ-EA) is second only to the Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI). The network image also reveals strong levels of perceived influence for the three news media clustered close to the government agencies. The Liberal Democratic Party is also assessed as highly influential, while the Japan Communist Party is diminutive. Business associations do not receive climate change information directly from the IPCC. Rather, businesses hand over this information-gathering task to a specialized business research institute, the Research Institute of the Electric Power Industry (CRIEPI), from which they probably get most of their information. Almost all of the domestic environmental NGOs do not receive information directly from the IPCC. Instead, the Japan branch of Greenpeace International serves as the primary information bridge-keeper to the domestic NGO community. This network figure indicates that in Japanese society the information bridge-keepers between outside and inside are relatively few, and those that perform this role have relatively high levels of political influence. This finding is in line with the network theory that being a bridge-keeper over a structural hole (a gap between clusters of organizations) gives power to the bridging actor (Burt 1992; Broadbent 2010).

Upon examination of the Japanese communication network about climate science, Japanese society appears receptive to the logic of scientific evidence – indeed the culture is enamored of technology and very successful in its innovation – and relatively free of powerful belief systems that would militate against accepting such logic. Compared to US media, Japanese news media are closely dependent upon government ministries for information and have rarely presented views questioning the validity of the IPCC findings and assertions. Japan's climate change science establishment is closely tied to and funded by the government. It seems that Japanese climate scientists rarely act as autonomous knowledge brokers among different sectors or in the policy making process, nor do they directly address the public contrary to current government policy (unlike, for instance, top climate scientist James Hansen in the US) (Broadbent 2010).

As an extension of this research to the global level, a publication based on the Compon media content analysis analyzed the comparative response to the 2001 and 2007 reports by the IPCC among five Asian societies (Broadbent et al. 2013). This study found different intensity of coverage in China, India, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan. However, the fact that Taiwan, not a UN member, always had the

Fig. 10.6 New Zealand organizational actors receiving scientific information about climate change.

lowest coverage indicated the importance of belonging to the UN system for receptivity to UN-based ideas.

Figure 10.6 shows how information about climate change was disseminated within New Zealand in 2008, in the lead up to the implementation of its economywide emission trading scheme. Organizations featured in this network include government ministries (blue circles), business organizations (red circles), political parties (orange circles), environmental NGOs (green circles), and research organizations (purple circles).[1]

As with the Japanese network in Fig. 10.4, the size of the icon represents the level of perceived influence of the actor in disseminating knowledge about climate change.

As within Japan, the IPCC is one of the three most central actors within the network. Another highly centralized actor within the network is the National Institute of Weather and Atmosphere (NIWA) a state owned and operated Crown Research Institute responsible for much of the climatological data submitted by New Zealand to the IPCC. The Ministry for the Environment (MEnvi) is the actor responsible for the majority of dissemination of scientific information on climate change to other actors, having the greatest centrality score of any of the actors within the network. The Ministry of Economic Development (MED) and the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFA&T) also figure prominently in the communication network, as well as several other Crown Research Institutes and domestic research universities. None of the political parties are presented as especially critical to information transfer, though the majority of political parties do appear within the network. Like in the Japanese case, businesses (yellow circles) tend to receive most of their information from business lobbying groups (red circles). While most of the domestic environmental NGOs do receive information from both the IPCC and NIWA, they do not in turn seem to give information about climate change to many actors within the network. This network figure indicates that within New Zealand the organizations conducting research on climate change themselves as well as the Ministry of the Environment act as bridge-keepers between actors within society, suggesting a high level of political influence.

In examining the New Zealand communication network around climate science, New Zealand also appears receptive to scientific evidence produced by the IPCC and its constituent organizations, many of which appear as Crown Research Institutes within this network. While the New Zealand media does present views questioning the validity of the IPCC's findings and assertions, the actors cited as doing so are not often research organizations as in the American media. While New Zealand climate change science organizations do not act exclusively as knowledge brokers among diverse clusters of actors, the do play an important role of being the sources of scientific information for those actors that do act as knowledge brokers.

  • [1] Note: the color version of this figure is available online in the Open Access version of this book, the print version includes grey scale images
  • [2] Note: the color version of this figure is available online in the Open Access version of this book, the print version includes grey scale images
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