Tag Archives: United States of America

Climate Change: Politics and Perception in the United States

By Jillian Smith, University of Birmingham 

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Donald Trump. Photo by Gage Skidmore/Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0

It has been a battle worthy of Cervantes, had he been alive in this era of anthropogenic climate change.  Simply mentioning the terms ‘climate change’ or ‘global warming’ can elicit impassioned, often divisive, rejoinders from an audience.  Invariably, belief and cultural systems drive the discourse of climate change opinion and news reportage; it is a complex chicken and egg scenario.  There does, however, appear to be an esoteric climate change–political nexus that also, perhaps deplorably at times, influences public opinion.  Nowhere does this egregious unification seem more prevalent than in the United States.  How do the politics around climate change influence the narratives and public perception?

Astoundingly, when a group of researchers set out to examine seventy-four American public opinion polls between 2002 and 2010, they discovered that neither extreme weather events nor scientific stories affected public perception of climate change (Brulle et al., 2011).  News reports – but more importantly, the politicians framed in the reports – were the biggest influences (Brulle, et al., 2011).  The two strongest events driving public concern in the United States at the time were the Democratic Congressional action statements and the Republican roll-call votes (Brulle, et al., 2011).  Indeed, most studies indicate that American views of climate change are strongly influenced by partisan politics.  Worldwide, however, educational attainment is generally regarded as the single biggest predictor of climate change awareness.

Interestingly, while Americans and Canadians share a border and enjoy similar lifestyles, a 2010 cross-border poll revealed fewer Americans claim solid evidence of global warming “based on what they have read or heard” (Borick et al., 2011).  Remarkably, 58 percent of Americans and 80 percent of Canadians answered affirmatively to the evidence of global warming (Borick et al., 2011).  A more recent opinion poll suggests that while 70 percent of American adults believe global warming is happening, only 53 percent think it is caused by human activities (Marlon et al., 2016).

To delve into the cultural and worldview disparities between the United States and Canada would be an exhaustive endeavor.  Still, it remains striking that Canada, within reach of America’s massive media kingdom, consistently reports and frames anthropogenic climate change differently than the United States.  While American reports continue to debate the science behind global warming, Canadian reports tend to frame the mitigation of anthropogenic climate change  (Good, 2008).

Novelty, controversy, geographic proximity, and relevance are all important frames in scientific stories (Caravalho, 2007).  Experts employ frames to simplify technical jargon; journalists use frames to craft appealing news reports; and audiences rely on frames to envisage an issue (Nisbet, 2009).  When climate change basics are framed as scientifically tenable positions, audiences must choose to question or quarantine their comfortably held beliefs.  In documenting Arctic ice edge narratives, Veland and Lynch (2016) state that we tend to rely on narratives that provide comfort to us.  The authors add that ontological insecurity can be a major challenge in making sound environmental decisions.

Once upon a time, scientists were informers and people listened.  Today, because the average citizen does not read peer-reviewed scientific literature, many rely on media and opinion pieces to educate themselves on newsworthy science stories.  Disparagement between petulant politicians and scientists often overshadows the science.  But climate change is a science; it does not require belief.  In that sense, public opinion matters little.

Moreover, the post-modernist notion that all ideas are worthy of expression can become unfavorable in the realm of climate science.  Science is indeed stronger with scrutiny; but those scrutinizing it are often politicians, journalists, and bloggers, not scientists.  It is not difficult to weave scandalous narratives about anthropogenic climate change: one side includes ‘alarmists’ and ‘manipulators of science’ who say the earth is doomed; the other claims global warming is an ‘elaborate hoax’.  This ‘experts in conflict’ narrative is a popular practice used predominantly in the United States.  International research demonstrates this custom is not widely used outside of America (Young & Dugas, 2011).

Undoubtedly, the path to re-engineering society will require a reorganization of thought – perceptions without politics, notions detached from debates, narratives with new frames.  Veland and Lynch (2016) assert that the Anthropocene narrative warns that stories–and the networks that make them–must change.  As Cervantes said through Quixote, “he who walks much and reads much knows much and sees much.”  The path forward surely involves assembling this collective knowledge and having discussions, not debates.

References

Borick, C., Lachapelle, E., & Rabe, B. (2011, February 23). Climate Compared: Public Opinion on Climate Change in the United States and Canada. (The University of Michigan; The Muhlenberg College Institute of Public Opinion) Retrieved from Public Policy Forum/Sustainable Prosperity: http://www.sustainableprosperity.ca/article911

Brulle, R. J., Carmichael, J., & Jenkins, J. C. (2011). Shifting public opinion on climate change: an empirical assessment of factors influencing concern over climate change in the US, 2002-2010. Climatic Change.

Carvahlo, A. (2007). Ideological cultures and media discourses on scientific knowledge: re-reading news on climate change. (S. Publications, Producer) Retrieved from Public Understanding of Science: http://www.pus.sagepub.com

Good, J. E. (2008). The Framing of Climate Change in Canadian, American, and International Newspapers; A Media Propaganda Model Analysis. (C. J. Communication, Ed.) Retrieved from http://www.cjc-online.ca/index.php/journal/article/view/2017/2006

Marlon, J., Howe, P., Mildenberger, M., & Leiserowitz, A. (2016). Yale Climate Opinion Maps – U.S. 2016. Retrieved from http://www.climatecommunication.yale.edu

Nisbet, M. (2009). Communicating climate change: Why frames matter for public engagement. Environment, 51 (2).

Veland, S., & Lynch, A. (2016). Arctic ice edge narratives: scale, discourse and ontological security. Area, 49.1, 9–17 doi: 10.1111/area.12270

Young, N., & Dugas, E. (2011). (C. S. Association, Producer, & University of Ottawa) Representations of Climate Change in Canadian National Print Media: The Banalization of Global Warming: http://www.ebscohost.com

The Rise of Hate and the Battle for Understanding

By Alexander Leo Phillips

Those of us who follow the news will be no strangers to the controversy surrounding the proposed Park 51 Community Centre in Lower Manhattan.  Also known as the ‘Ground Zero Mosque’ (despite being neither a Mosque nor located at ‘Ground Zero’), the project has led to numerous claims that its a signal of the ‘victorious Islamic take-over of America’.  Given it’s true nature, the project is  naturally supported by President Obama; or has a member of the Tea Party Nation likes to call him as a result the “Muslim crypto-commie usurper”.

Emotions are running high this week as Saturday marks the 9th anniversary of the 11th September, 2001 terrorist attacks, which so painfully defined the last decade.  To the mark the occasion a small Florida church known as the Dove World Outreach Centre (DWOC (an ironic title as we’ll see)) has propelled itself into the media spotlight by holding an ‘International Burn a Koran Day’; after all little invokes the image of doves and outreach quite like a good old book burning, just ask the Nazis!

Their intentions have rightly sparked a sense of horror and disapproval from many Americans, with General Petraeus stating that the action “could endanger troops and it could endanger the overall effort [of American foreign policy]” (BBC).  Sadly, along with the Park 51 project and the rising levels of ‘ hate crimes’ like the Jacksonville Mosque pipe bomb perpetrated in the US, this action appears symptomatic of the wider issue of Islamophobia which fails to go away.  As a direct result of the DWOC’s plans the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) have recently launched a new campaign to battle what it terms as the “growing anti-Muslim bigotry in American society”. This ‘bigotry’ is indeed widespread amongst a vocal minority and is increasingly backed up by elements of America’s right-wing media outlets, politicians and fringe religious organisations.

In the current issue of Transactions, Dr. Nick Megoran details how the ‘Reconciliation Walks’  project has acted to transform the “deeply entrenched geopolitical understanding[s]” (2010:395) of those who participated in them. Furthermore, it demonstrates how just the simplest acts of genuine outreach and understanding work to easily destroy pre-existing feelings of fear and mistrust.

As many geographers with an interest in politics and religion would argue, both are often inseparable.  Indeed religious groups can act as a positive force as Dr. Megoran’s paper implies; but I feel its equally important to remain mindful that the opposite is often just as true as the DWOC so shamefully demonstrates.  Furthermore, I suggest that our work is largely wasted if we don’t in some way conduct some ‘outreach’ activities ourselves, in order to help end these circles of hate, lies and fear.

For more information on Park51: http://www.cordobainitiative.org/

For more information on the DWOC: http://www.doveworld.org/

For more information on CAIR: http://www.cair.com/ArticleDetails.aspx?ArticleID=26609&&name=n&&currPage=1

N, Megoran, 2010. “Towards a geography of peace: pacific geopolitics and evangelical Christian crusade apologies”, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, Vol. 35 (3). pp. 382-398.

A Special Relationship?

By Alexander Leo Phillips

Originally coined by Winston Churchill in 1946, the ‘Special Relationship’ between the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the United States of America has been tested in recent months. With splits in Middle East policy, the BP oil spill and anti-UK rhetoric by the US administration; it appears to some that maintaining the closest of ties to the US is no longer in the UK’s national interest.  So much so that a committee of MPs have even suggested that the term be officially dropped in all UK documentation.  They concluded that “the overuse of the phrase by some politicians and many in the media serves simultaneously to de-value its meaning and to raise unrealistic expectations about the benefits the relationship can deliver to the UK.”

It’s been clear for many years now that the balance of global power has shifted away from the once dominate United States to the emerging BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) economies, who look set to dictate the course of the 21st Century.  The UK has embraced this transition with unrivaled vigor and sort closer links with these nations. India in particular has been the target of Britain’s new coalition government; exemplified by Prime Minister Cameron’s visit there last week where he stated his intent to “take the relationship between India and Britain to the next level. [He] want[s] to make it stronger, wider and deeper.”

Britain’s ever evolving relationship with the USA has long been of interest to Human Geographers, focusing in particular on how the UK has situated itself as a bridge between America and European states such as France and Germany.  This relationship has been charted by Simon Tate in Area, who suggests that the diplomatic failures of the former Labour government where the result of an outdated geopolitical strategy.

Tate, S. 2009. ‘The high wire act: a comparison of British transatlantic foreign policies in the Second World War and the war in Iraq, 2001-2003’, Area, 41 (2). pp. 207 – 218.