Who Speaks for Climate?

Who Speaks for Climate? Making Sense of Media Reporting on Climate Change

by Maxwell Boykoff
Cambridge University Press

Available 2011

Read an interview with Max Boykoff on "Who Speaks For The Climate? Media Reporting On Climate Change"


It is my hope that this volume inspires ongoing thinking and research that interrogates why and how media representations of climate change are produced, negotiated and disseminated through unequal power, and inequalities of access and resources. In so doing, I hope my work will expand the spectrum of possibility for enhanced decision-making and action on climate change.

This book has been an opportunity to weave a coherent narrative through quantitative and qualitative work that I have produced on the subject of media and climate change over the last decade or so. In particular, Chapter 1 derives from cooperative work that I have undertaken with Michael K. Goodman and Ian Curtis on ‘the cultural politics of climate change’. Chapters 5 and 6 draw from collaborations with Jules Boykoff on US newspaper coverage of climate change, and with Maria Mansfield on tabloid coverage in the UK. Parts of Chapters 7 and 8 draw on materials once assembled with J. Timmons Roberts as well as with S. Ravi Rajan, while considerations of new and social media in Chapter 8 stem from ongoing discussions with Saffron O’Neill. In addition, close readers will certainly detect the imprints of many scholars, mentors and friends who have influenced my considerations in the volume you now hold.

The perspective in this book derives from my interdisciplinary path through both formal and informal academic commitments and pursuits. I have been heavily influenced by exposure and formal as well as informal training in intersecting disciplines such as Environmental Studies, Geography, Sociology, Psychology, Politics, Chemistry, Physics, and the History of Consciousness.

I am not a trained journalist. The observations and arguments that I put forward come from many interviews with those inside the profession, analyses of the content of media representations, and interrogations of how these communities relate to science, policy and the public. Yet, these explorations remain from the standpoint of a scholar outside the quotidian practices of journalism. Moreover, I am from the United States. This influences how the book has approached the material from a Western perspective, with many examples and illustrations emanating from the United States and Western Europe.

Media representations of climate change and other environmental issues are areas of burgeoning research. In this volume, I have been tempted to extensively catalogue this work. However, doing so would quickly expand this book to twice the size it is now. Therefore, I have had to be very economizing with the research I have mentioned here.

In addition, I have not been able to satisfyingly address all of the many dimensions and intersections between this topic and themes such as media and democracy, as well as media and political ecology. While it has been necessarily beyond the scope of the book to take up such themes comprehensively, it is my intention that this volume can be read usefully with these other literatures.

These days, a great deal of interesting and innovative research seems to be coming from undergraduate, masters and PhD students around the world. Many researchers have contacted me over the years and shared their insights, approaches, findings and conclusions. Some of the innovative thinking may be attributed to the new generation of new media consumers as well as those that have grown up in a time when climate change was already evident on the public agenda. I worry a bit that much of these contributions haven’t yet made it into the formal peer-reviewed literature, and instead remain confined to their respective department and campus library archives, or on a family bookshelf. However, there is a lot that can be gained from these contributions: methodologically, empirically, theoretically. So I do hope that my work here will inspire all its readers (you!) to continue to take up these vexing yet vital 21st century questions.