Nottingham’s Brigitte Nerlich, Professor of Science, Language and Society, said: “Climate change is a complex social issue involving a wide cross section of society — including scientists, policy makers, industry, the mass media, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), activist groups and the general public.
“Debates about climate change or global warming have been characterised both by longer periods of slow, mainly consensus-dominated phases and by a series of sudden changes in attention to, and the social, cultural and political meaning of, ‘climate change’.
“An example of such a sudden shift in public debate would be the controversial ‘Climategate’ incident of November 2009, where hacked email exchanges between scientists at the Climate Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia in Norwich led to some critics accusing them of manipulating scientific data on climate change and so-called climate change sceptics to call into question the emerging scientific consensus on the human influence on climate change.”
The project will investigate public interest in climate change from 1992 to 2010, examining the communication of global warming both across longer periods of time and at specific points of intense scrutiny — from the Rio Earth Summit of 1992 to the aftermath of ‘Climategate’ and the United Nation’s Conference on Climate Change in Copenhagen 2009 and beyond.
The researchers will also analyse the influence that various public figures and organisations have had on various key turning points of the debate and the way in which climate change has been used for a variety of political purposes. This will contribute to an increasing dialogue on the wider cultural dimensions of climate change already gaining momentum, including Mike Hulme’s 2009 book Why We Disagree about Climate Change: Understanding Controversy, Inaction and Opportunity.
The rise of the web has also played a crucial role in the changing dialogue of climate change, allowing the debate to be played out across an increasing network of social media and technologies.
One of the aims of the new research will be the development of new tools for dynamic web analysis to establish where and how debate on global warming is evolving on the internet.
The project brings together established research expertise examining the language of climate change. Professor Nerlich within the School of Sociology and Social Policy at The University of Nottingham and Dr Nelya Koteyko in the Department of Media and Communication at the University of Leicester have previously studied the linguistics of the debate surrounding global warming and the impact of political labelling such as ‘Climategate’. The Dutch academics, led by Dr Iina Hellsten, have centred their previous work on public hype triggered by events such as the outbreak of epidemics and use in the media of words such as ‘Frankenfood’.
Professor Nerlich added: “Social scientists, discourse analysts and communication analysts have studied climate change for a long time, but nobody has engaged in-depth with the complexity of public perception. The tools we will be using for this project will allow us to uncover patterns and reveal changes in the dynamics of social change, accelerated through the increasing impact of the internet.”
The project is being supported by a €750,000 grant from the Open Research Area Scheme (ORA), the largest joint initiative between European funding agencies in social sciences. The ORA is a new way of funding international research through the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), Agence Nationale de la Recherche (ANR), Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) and the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO). The scheme supports projects that address important social and economic issues and will provide positive benefits not just for the countries involved but for the European Union as a whole.
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Notes to editors:
The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is the UK's largest organisation for funding research on economic and social issues. It supports independent, high quality research which has an impact on business, the public sector and the third sector. The ESRC's planned total expenditure in 2009/10 is £204 million. At any one time the ESRC supports over 4,000 researchers and postgraduate students in academic institutions and independent research institutes. More at http://www.esrcsocietytoday.ac.uk
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