Coverage and framing of climate change adaptation in the media: A review of influential North American newspapers during 1993–2013

2015 January 21

Ford, J.D., King, D. (2015). Find PDF here. Environmental Science & Policy.

The portrayal of climate change in the news has been a major focus of research over the last decade, reflecting the importance of the media in affecting public opinion and policy. This work has primarily focused on the science of climate change, impacts, and mitigation, yet our understanding on how adaptation is being profiled in the media is limited. In response to this gap, this paper quantitatively examines the coverage and framing of climate change adaptation in four influential North American newspapers between 1993 and 2013. Over the observation period, the total number of articles focusing on adaptation published each year increases, with peaks in reporting in 2007, 2012, and 2013. While adaptation has permeated news coverage, it still remains overshadowed by stories on impacts and mitigation, with increased reporting consistent with increased media attention to climate change over the last two decades. Of the newspaper articles with adaptation content (n = 271), the majority (53%) focus primarily on stating the need to adapt, as opposed to documenting actual preparations being undertaken for adaptation or profiling actual adaptations that have taken place. The types of adaptation being reported on are predominantly ‘hard’ in nature, profiling techno-engineering based responses to reduce potential climate change impacts, in contrast to ‘soft’ responses that seek to enhance resilience. This representation is particularly evident in reporting in 2012 and 2013. Adaptations being described in the selected newspaper articles are primarily anticipatory in nature up until 2011, after which adaptations are primarily discussed in terms of responding to extreme weather events, specifically in the context of a surge in reporting documented in response to Hurricane Sandy (2012) and flooding in Canada in 2013.

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