Scandinavian scepticism — how to explain Norway?
This week, we have a guest post from James Painter, Head of the Journalism Fellowship Programme at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism. James led a pioneering study of the reporting of climate change – and climate change scepticism – in six nations around the world. The study found compelling evidence that sceptical voices in the media tended to be associated with English-speaking countries. But in this blog, James asks how the Scandinavian nation of Norway – where levels of climate scepticism are surprisingly high – fits into this overall picture.
One of the most intriguing aspects of climate scepticism, in all its forms, is how to account for country-to-country differences in its prevalence (and in some cases its virtual absence). There’s an abundance of it in the media in the USA, UK, Australia and Canada, but very little in France and most of Western Europe, and the Global South.
It is not simply a result of whether there is a well-funded lobby group or think tank, supported or not by the fossil fuel industry in a country, although that of course is a major driver. Our study of climate scepticism in six countries called Poles Apart suggested that it was a result of the interplay between processes within newspapers (such as political ideology, journalistic practices, editorial culture, or the influence of editors and proprietors) and external societal forces.
These could be anything from the presence of sceptical political parties, the power of sceptical lobbying groups, the public profile of sceptical scientists, a country’s energy matrix, the presence of web-based scepticism, or even a country’s direct experience of a changing climate.
So I was intrigued on a recent visit to a conference at the University of Bergen in Norway to hear more about the presence of climate scepticism in society and the media there. Norway is often considered to be exceptional for a heightened degree of climate scepticism both in society and the media, compared to most European countries with the possible exceptions of Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic.
Recent opinion poll work commissioned as part of the Climate Crossroads project and presented at the conference suggests that 42% of Norwegians strongly or moderately agree that the seriousness of climate change is exaggerated. This group was interpreted as ‘impact sceptics’ (i.e. those broadly who accept that global warming is happening and human causation, but claim impacts may be benign or beneficial, or that not enough is known about them).
A comparison with the rest of Europe shows that this is a significantly higher figure than the European average of 29%.
A recent study of sceptical voices in five Norwegian newspapers by Katherine Duarte at Bergen University concluded that such voices had increased after ‘Climategate’ but had diminished by a year later. Katherine is a member of the MediaClimate project, who published a book in 2010 with the title “Global Climate– Local Journalisms” on the study of climate summits.
She found that one of the most quoted groups was a sceptical NGO called “Klimarealistene” (Climate realists). This would have parallels with the results in our study, which showed how very ‘successful’ the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF) had been in getting its voice heard during the Climategate affair. The GWPF’s Lord Lawson and Benny Peiser were by far the most quoted sceptics in the ten national UK newspapers in the periods we looked at in ‘Poles Apart’.
One factor that does not seem to have had a strong amplifier effect in Norway is the blogosphere, in contrast to the Anglophone world. New research by Professor Dag Elgesem suggests that there were only 17 or 18 blogs about ‘Climategate’ in Norwegian, despite the fact that the affair attracted media publicity and that most Norwegians understand English well.
To return to the opinion polls in Norway, the results suggested that the main correlation with an individual’s climate scepticism was not levels of education and knowledge about the topic, but political affiliation. And this is where Norway’s right-wing populist Progress Party comes in.
One recent poll suggested that it had support of about 20% of voters in Norway, behind that of the Conservative Party with 29%. If parliamentary elections were held today, the two parties would be two seats away from a coalition, which may have profound impacts on Norway’s climate change policies.
The party is very unusual in Europe for being openly climate sceptical. For example, on 31 January 2010 the Party’s leader Siv Jensen was emboldened to criticise the IPCC in an article in the leading newspaper Aftenposten under the headline ‘No More Talk about Global Warming’. Another factor to take into account of course is that Norway is a major producer and exporter of oil, but the link between its energy matrix and heightened climate scepticism is not at all clear. There’s no suggestion that the state oil company, Statoil, is financing climate sceptic groups or parties.
So plenty of room for thought – and for more research into the relative weighting of different variables in different countries (media-driven, economic, political and cultural) to explain the different presence and manifestations of climate scepticism.
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