In the past, you conducted research on transnational publics and on the EU’s information policy. What do those topics have to do with climate change?
In a word, I’d say what they all have in common is one thing: communication problems. While working on my dissertation, I explored the question of how the EU conveys information to its citizens. And climate-change communication also involves conveying important but sometimes abstract ideas.
What made you switch your focus to climate change in 2010, while you were still in Zurich?
My feeling was: This is the most important topic for humanity. And at the same time: There are obviously communications problems, because there’s a huge discrepancy between discourses in the academic world and in the media.
Could you share with us one of the concrete findings of your research?
In Zurich, one of the studies we conducted involved five different countries. “Do you believe in climate change?” – that was the question we posed to leading climate journalists working in key media in Great Britain, the USA, India, Germany and Switzerland. All of the journalists surveyed agreed that climate change is a very real, manmade problem, echoing the findings of the IPCC’s Assessment Reports. In contrast, the general media often question whether or not climate change is real. This is partly due to an important journalistic norm, which calls for balanced reporting and therefore presenting both the pros and cons for any given question. That’s one reason why climate-change skeptics are so vocal. Another is that debates between skeptics and “warners” offer journalists a good story that’s appealing and easy to tell.
Which topics from Zurich will you continue to work on? And which new approaches will accompany your new start at CliSAP?
My new position definitely allows me to build on my previous work in this area. For instance, in Zurich I concentrated on the role of journalists in the climate debate. Now further actors will join the mix – those working in climate-change PR and scientific PR, as well as political communicators. Further, before the spotlight was on classical journalism; now I want to investigate who shapes the digital climate-change debate, which means we’ll also analyze blogs and social networks – contexts where scientists and skeptics alike are active. As such, the new subject of my research is: digital climate-change communication networks.
How will you be working together with other CliSAP disciplines?
Needless to say, I’ll be relying on the expertise in the Cluster, since I’m no expert when it comes to the scientific basis of climate change. So I’m very much looking forward to the contact with other fields. Also, I’m sure there are colleagues at the Cluster who know what it feels like when they try to communicate what their research is all about, only to be misunderstood. Taking a look at the types of logic used in public communication can help to understand why journalists and scientists sometimes get their wires crossed.