Linguists at The University of Nottingham are undertaking a £190,000, two-year study on the use of climate change-related terms in the tradition media and cyberspace.
The research aims to understand how complex scientific concepts such as climate change are communicated to the public, and how media-driven “hype to cynicism” could affect policymakers looking to develop awareness campaigns about issues that need our attention and cooperation.
“The publication of the Stern Review in 2006 and Government moves to slash carbon emissions has presented a challenge in terms of how we get people to change their behaviour and attitudes,” said Brigitte Nerlich of the University’s Institute for Science and Society. “In recent times, this has been framed almost exclusively in terms of how to reduce your carbon footprint.”
She continued, “As a result of this, we have found that three types of lexical ‘carbon compounds’ have become most prevalent: finance, such as carbon tax, carbon budget and carbon fraud; lifestyle, such as carbon footprint and carbon diet; and moral and religious, such as carbon sinner and carbon indulgences.”
The researchers are studying online news sites for national newspapers such as The Guardian and The Observer, blogs and sites populated by environmental activists. An interesting discovery so far: the language used by activists tends to be more instructional rather than hectoring, whereas the most emotive phrases seem to have sprung up among the mainstream national news.
Following completion of the study, the researchers plan to host a workshop with academics, Government officials and public relations professionals to discuss the growth of “carbon compounds,” how they are used and what their significance could be for climate change communication.