Global Warming in Local Discourses: How Communities around the World Make Sense of Climate Change

Global Warming in Local Discourses: How Communities around the World Make Sense of Climate Change Michael Brüggemann and Simone Rödder (eds.)
With an interdisciplinary scope and a weaving together of global and local climate change concerns, Global Warming in Local Discourses provides an excellent example for the type of collection urgently needed right now. Merging communication studies methods with social histories and cultural studies, this collection offers a range of perspectives on how global warming is perceived, experienced, communicated, and acted upon differently across the world. Quite crucially, it reminds us of the importance of understanding the local challenges, suffering, and response so often overlooked when addressing this global problem, and offers dynamic ways for assessing them.
—Hunter Vaughan, University of Colorado Boulder and Editor of Journal of Environmental Media


As the idea of climate change reaches ever more widely across societies, there is a need to deepen our understanding of the sheer diversity of ways in which people make sense of their changing climate.  Global Warming in Local Discourses does just this.  From Germany to Tanzania and from Bangladesh to Greenland, Brüggemann and Rödder bring together carefully researched accounts of what people perceive is happening to their local climates, and why.  These authors explain why local discourses of social change become climatised and how transnational climate discourses become localised.  This book brilliantly shows how the idea of climate change performs many different cultural and political functions as it travels around the world, meeting a sheer diversity of people and cultures along the way.
—Mike Hulme, University of Cambridge


This book provides fascinating accounts of how spatially distant communities across this planet nonetheless share many important commonalities. Michael Brüggemann and Simone Rödder have very effectively drawn together many ways of learning and knowing about a changing climate by way of extreme events experienced in varied locations. From Maasiland to Greenland and from Bangladesh to Tanzania, patterns they identify here are immensely helpful for those seeking to more effectively make progress on politically-, culturally- and socially-sensitive climate engagement and action. I recommend this book to everyone working to make sense of how we as a global community can more effectively learn from each other and utilize common ground to substantively address climate change in the twenty-first century.
—Max Boykoff, University of Colorado Boulder

Global news on anthropogenic climate change is shaped by international politics, scientific reports and voices from transnational protest movements. This timely volume asks how local communities engage with these transnational discourses.

The chapters in this volume present a range of compelling case studies drawn from a broad cross-section of local communities around the world, reflecting diverse cultural and geographical contexts. From Greenland to northern Tanzania, it illuminates how different understandings evolve in diverse cultural and geographical contexts while also revealing some common patterns of how people make sense of climate change. Global Warming in Local Discourses constitutes a significant, new contribution to understanding the multi-perspectivity of our debates on climate change, further highlighting the need for interdisciplinary study within this area.

It will be a valuable resource to those studying climate and science communication; those interested in understanding the various roles played by journalism, NGOs, politics and science in shaping public understandings of climate change, as well as those exploring the intersections of the global and the local in debates on the sustainable transformation of societies.



Global Warming in Local Discourses: How Communities around the World Make Sense of Climate Change
Michael Brüggemann and Simone Rödder (eds.) | Forthcoming 2020
Global Communications vol. 1 | ISSN 2634-7245 (Print) | 2634-7253 (Online)
Paperback: 9781783749591
ISBN Hardback: 9781783749607
ISBN Digital (PDF): 9781783748051
ISBN Digital ebook (epub): 9781783749386
ISBN Digital ebook (mobi): 9781783749393
ISBN Digital (XML): 9781783749409
DOI: 10.11647/OBP.0212
Categories: BIC: RN (The environment), RNT (Social impact of environmental issues), RNA (Environmentalist thought and ideology), JFD (Media studies), J (Society and social sciences), PSAF (Ecological science, the Biosphere); BISAC: SCI019000 (SCIENCE / Earth Sciences / General), SCI026000 (SCIENCE / Environmental Science), SCI042000 (SCIENCE / Earth Sciences / Meteorology & Climatology), SOC026040 (SOCIAL SCIENCE / Sociology / Social Theory)



We are Climate Change: Climate Debates between Transnational and Local Discourses
Michael Brüggemann and Simone Rödder

Local discourses around the world draw on multiple resources to make sense of a "travelling idea” such as climate change, including direct experiences of extreme weather, mediated reports, educational NGO activities, and pre-existing values and belief systems. There is no simple link between scientific literacy, climate change awareness, and a sustainable lifestyle, but complex entanglements of transnational and local discourses and of scientific and other (religious, moral etc.) ways of making sense of climate change. As the case studies show, this entanglement of ways of sense-making results in both localizations of transnational discourses and the climatization of local discourses: aspects of the travelling idea of climate change are well-received, integrated, transformed, or rejected. Our comparison reveals a major factor that shapes the local appropriation of the concept of anthropogenic climate change: the fit of prior local interpretations, norms and practices with travelling ideas influences whether they are likely to be embraced or rejected.

The Case of "Costa del Nuuk”: Greenlanders Make Sense of Global Climate Change
Freja C. Eriksen

This chapter investigates how fifteen inhabitants of the Greenlandic capital, Nuuk, make sense of climate change and its impacts through media exposure and personal experiences. While Greenland’s melting ice sheet has long served as a backdrop to the global climate debate, local public views of climate change have largely been overlooked. This study finds that, although the media is an important source of information about climate change for the inhabitants of Nuuk, their sense-making of the phenomenon is saturated by personal experiences. Alarmist media representations, for instance, are continuously challenged by references to personal experiences of positive local impacts of climate change. The chapter identifies six distinctions underlying the inhabitants’ sense-making of climate change — natural/unnatural, certainty/uncertainty, self/other, local/global, positive/negative, and environment/economy.

Communication and Knowledge Transfer on Climate Change in the Philippines
Thomas Friedrich

Separately from its physical reality, climate change has become a travelling idea (Hulme 2009). Through numerous policies, laws and regulations, the global discourse on climate change is affecting many people, irrespective of how strongly they experience the consequences of a changing climate. The idea travels via a long chain of communication and translation from the global to the local level. Along the way, however, knowledge becomes detached from its meaning (Jasanoff 2010). This chapter uses the case of the Philippine island of Palawan to show how an idea can be re-integrated into a meaningful context during multiple translations from its source to its destination in local ontologies. The chapter demonstrates that the local reception of climate change discourse is influenced by pre-existing, shared systems of knowledge and meaning that are reproduced and maintained by circular rather than unidirectional, top-down communication. Irrespective of scientific accuracy, climate change thus becomes a coherent, plausible, and tangible concept regarding what people already know, believe and experience. Based on empirical data that has been collected in multi-method fieldwork in Palawan, this chapter shows that sense-making is a multi-layered process, in which discourses and narratives, cultural models of human-environment relationships, interpersonal communications, personal experiences, and other sources of information (including the media) play a decisive role in how climate change is eventually comprehended and communicated. Using the ethnographic example of a lay theatre performance, the chapter paradigmatically demonstrates how the reproduction and dissemination of the local notion of climate change takes place. It concludes by offering recommendations for climate communicators drawn from the case study.

Sense-Making of COP 21 among Rural and City Residents: The Role of Space in Media Reception
Imke Hoppe, Fenja De Silva-Schmidt, Michael Brüggemann, and Dorothee Arlt

This chapter explores the role of space in making sense of climate change coverage. The role of space is analyzed in the form of (a) (attributed) spatial distance and/or proximity to climate change, (b) personal nature and weather experiences attributed to climate change and (c) social spaces. The study compares how the United Nations’ summit COP 21, which resulted in the Paris Agreement in 2015, has been perceived and interpreted in an urban (Hamburg) and a rural setting (Otterndorf), both located in Northern Germany. In each setting, two focus group interviews were held (n = 15), one with long-term inhabitants and one with newly relocated citizens. This data was complemented by media diaries (including standardized and open questions), in which participants documented their communicative engagement with the climate summit on a daily basis. Media use in both cases is fairly similar, with participants in the rural setting using their local newspaper more intensively. Yet, local newspapers’ quality of reporting the summit was deemed as highly deficient, failing to provide a local angle to the climate summit and to the broader topic of climate change. Media, apparently, have not explained the issue well: climate change and politics are perceived as overly complex and distant. Space plays an important role: people in the rural setting—with the rising tides of the North Sea behind the dikes—felt more personally concerned by climate change than inhabitants of Hamburg. Furthermore, long-term inhabitants drew much stronger links between climate change and their region. The duration of stay in a certain setting thus turns out to be an important moderator of spatial influence on interpretations of climate change.

What Does Climate Change Mean to Us, the Maasai? How Climate Change Discourse is Translated in Maasailand, Northern Tanzania
Sara de Wit

This chapter explores the varying ways in which the Maasai pastoralists in Terrat village in northern Tanzania give meaning to climate-change discourses. This study moves away from the idea that there is a "linear” (from global to local/science to citizen) and "correct” way of interpreting and understanding climate change as a scientific discourse, but turns the question around by asking "what does climate change mean to the Maasai”? Based on fourteen months of multi-sited ethnographic fieldwork, this chapter contextualizes climate change discourses in the historical, environmental and political dimensions of the Maasai’s "interpretive horizons”. It is argued that local discourses and interpretations are not just barriers in the global pursuit for climate change adaptation, even if they contradict global discourses and policies, but reveal crucial insights about local priorities, values, and agency. In other words, the rejection of this new discourse should not be seen as a form of ignorance, but rather as an act of cultural translation and resistance. 

Living on the Frontier: Laypeople’s Perceptions and Communication of Climate Change in the Coastal Region of Bangladesh
Shameem Mahmud

Despite a considerable increase in the number of studies on public perceptions of climate change, little attention has been paid to the development of public understanding of climate change in developing and less-developed countries, which have contributed comparatively few greenhouse gases emissions. This chapter contributes to address this gap in the literature by exploring how people construct meanings of climate change risks in an area at the forefront of climate change risks—the coastal region of Bangladesh. The study draws on in-depth interviews of local citizens, which were supplemented by field observations. The interviews reveal a recurring theme of localizing climate change risks in the context of local geo-hazards. Laypeople’s personal exposure to local extreme weather events, and experiences of weather and seasonal variances, influence their interpretations of mediated and non-mediated climate change information. The risks of local geo-hazards appear to be readily available as prior constructs in respondents’ minds, and are further intensified by newly acquired knowledge of climate change. The chapter concludes that laypeople’s perceptions of climate-change impacts in the coastal region of Bangladesh are constructed on the basis of their place identity, on the one hand, and the availability of regional geo-hazards, on the other.

Extreme Weather Events and Local Impacts of Climate Change: The Scientific Perspective
Friederike E. L. Otto

While global and regional temperature increases are the most certain indicators of anthropogenic climate change, due to the emissions from burning fossil fuels, the damage caused by climate change is most clearly manifest in changes in seasons and extreme weather events. Recent advances in the attribution of extreme weather events, combined with newly available observations of past weather and climate, have made it possible to causally link high-impact extreme events to human-induced climate change. The level of confidence in these findings, however, varies according to the type of event and region of the world. While the increase in heatwaves can be quantified with confidence in most parts of the world, attribution assessments for droughts and hurricanes are much more uncertain.