Observing the evolution of the climate change debate across different public spheres
Monika Ewa Rakoczy, Armin Pournaki, Robin Lamarche-PerrinClimate change is an undeniable truth in the scientific community. However, even though predictions of its impacts have been persisting for years, the debate seems to have gained significant traction in the public sphere only in the last few years.
One explanation for this could be the increase of immediate effects of climate change, such as rising temperatures, floods and bushfires. Meanwhile, the increasing interest in the climate change debate could as well have come along with a discursive shift, enhanced by emerging actors on the international scene such as Greta Thunberg. This shift can take place and manifest itself differently in various areas of debate, ranging from political discussions in parliaments to newspaper articles and social media outlets. We therefore need to quantitatively investigate these different debate areas in order to systematically observe the multiple facets of the evolution of the climate change discussion in recent years.
In order to do so, we consider three large-scale datasets spanning from July 2016 to September 2019:
(1) For the perspective of social media, a collection of 246M tweets related to climate change,
(2) For the perspective of mass media, all articles published by The Guardian which used "Climate Change" keyword,
(3) For the political debate, a corpus of 92~287 UK parliamentary speeches given within discussions related to climate change.
From these three corpora, we identify and observe the dynamics of subtopics over time, employing methods ranging from outlier exploration and topic modeling to network representations. This allows us to investigate the possible existence and dynamics of discursive shifts. Furthermore, we look for features in the debate that allow us to quantify these shifts and that may help us understand the way new ideas and opinions are introduced to a debate.
In particular, we focus on three aspects of debates: How much is climate change discussed in a given area? What vocabulary / terminology is used to do so? What kind of interaction patterns do we observe in such discussions?
Ultimately, this work aims to provide insights into the underlying complex mechanisms that drive societal debates across media, citizens and politicians.