Watching helplessly: newspaper coverage of the roles for individuals and homeowners as the UK adapts to a changing climate

Authors: Rachel Harcourt*, , Wandi Bruine de Bruin, University of Leeds, Suraje Dessai, University of Leeds, Andrea Taylor, University of Leeds
Topics: Environment, Communication
Keywords: adaptation, media, agency, responsibility, UK
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/4/2019
Start / End Time: 5:00 PM / 6:40 PM
Room: Cabinet Room, Omni, West
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The UK government is encouraging all sectors of society to take adaptive actions to protect their own interests from climate risks. However, an individual’s willingness to act is likely influenced by their perceived agency to take effective action. In this study we examined how UK newspapers are narrating climate change adaptation. We analyzed 282 articles from fourteen UK newspapers from 2013, 2015 and 2017, collected through LexisNexis. Each article was coded for the individuals and/or groups identified by the texts as having voice to call for adaptation and as having agency to respond. Individuals were rarely given voice to call for adaptation within the newspaper texts. When quoted, it was usually in the role of victim of impacts that had happened or might happen. Scientists and experts were referenced most frequently to support the argument for adaptation. There was also relatively little discussion of actions individuals might take to protect themselves and their properties. The national government, and to a lesser extent local government, was most often presented as having the agency to respond to extreme weather events. Newspaper discussion of individual agency in adapting to a changing climate in the UK is limited in volume and scope. Individuals reading the current narrative of UK climate change adaptation are unlikely to see themselves as at the center of the story. Further, casting only a limited number of low-agency roles for individuals and homeowners risks strengthening self-perceptions of low agency and low responsibility.

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