Who cares about coastal carbon? Using social network analysis to map the structure of an emergent issue field
Jennifer Bansard | University of Potsdam | Germany
With respect to terrestrial ecosystems, the sustainable management of carbon sinks is unequivocally an established issue in international climate governance. Despite their significant carbon sequestration potential, coastal ecosystems on the other hand long remained absent from the debate. After decades in the shadow, “coastal carbon” is now establishing itself as an issue of scholarly interest. Along with the growth in the body of knowledge came the uptake of the topic beyond the academic realm. Indeed, more and more actors such as international organizations, NGOs, or the media are addressing the role of coastal ecosystems in mitigating climate change. This emergent issue field in turn materializes on the social media platform Twitter, where users brought to life hashtags such as #coastalcarbon or #bluecarbon. Against this background, this paper uses Twitter data to shed light on the landscape of individuals and organizations discussing the issue of coastal carbon. Special emphasis is devoted to analyzing the way scholars engage in these online discussions; i.a. examining how they relate to other types of actors in the network and what role they play in the dissemination of knowledge. Overall, the paper identifies pivotal figures in the coastal carbon field and reflects on the use of Twitter for bringing attention to research findings.
Divergent Neighbors: Corporatism and Climate Policy Networks in Finland and Sweden
Antti Gronow | University of Helsinki | Finland
Previous research has argued that corporatist polities tend to enact more ambitious environmental policies than others. A similar systems research design is used to test the validity of this claim of two similar corporatist polities that diverge in their climate change policy: Swedish climate policy is more ambitious than Finland’s. It is argued that corporatism has three main characteristics: inclusiveness, consensualism, and strength of tripartite organizations. A hypothesis is postulated that the first two of these support and the last one hinders ambitious environmental policymaking. The hypothesis is tested with the help of a policy network survey of key organizations in climate policy in Finland and Sweden. The results show that the relationship of corporatism and environmental policy is not as straightforward as presumed previously: consensualism is slightly positively related to ambitious environmental policy, while the opposite is true of tripartite strength.
Participation within community-led energy projects: The role of social networks
Fleur Goedkoop | University of Groningen | Netherlands
This paper looks at the role of social networks in facilitating or hindering participation in local renewable energy initiatives (LREI). These are bottom-up initiatives within communities to become more sustainable by energy saving campaigns or producing renewable energy via a local cooperative. Typically, in such projects a group of front-runners takes the lead shouldering the start-up costs. Hereafter, more members of the wider community may join. If too few inhabitants of the community participate though, the project might fail after all.
Most existing studies investigating participation in community energy projects focus on individual characteristics of front runners and potential participants, disregarding social network characteristics. Studies that do include social networks often employ small samples or qualitative data. This work suggests that people are often recruited by familiar others who already joined the movement. Importantly, a strong connection to front-runners may provide individuals with trust, next to information and may provide a strong normative obligation to join.
However, not only direct but also indirect connections to front-runners in the broader network within the community might matter. Prospective participants engaged in other (local) organizations, may be more willing to join energy related community projects, since these other activities can bring them indirectly into contact with the ideas of the frontrunners. They might also be seen as a signal of general involvement within a community. By including the broader network in the community we gain more insight into how and when the team of front-runners is influential in attracting community members to engage in the project.
We use quantitative data in seven villages and neighborhoods in the Netherlands (N=465). We analyze the wider community network and individuals' indirect connections with frontrunners through affiliation networks. This way, we can proxy the social networks within these communities without collecting data on complete networks, something which is not feasible within communities of the size we study. From these networks we estimate effects of individual level network variables in an ordinal regression model of intention to participate. In addition, we compare the community network structure of these communities and link them to their progress.
Preliminary results show that in addition to prior investments in renewable energy and income, direct contact and, to a lesser extent, indirect contact via co-memberships seem to matter. However, these results differ between communities; in some communities indirect contact has a positive effect whereas in others it seems to have a negative effect, and in some there is no effect. When it comes to mechanisms, only social norms seem to play a role, indicating that people who know more front-runners feel a higher obligation to act pro-environmentally. Contact does not seem to be important for information sharing since almost all respondents knew about the project, independent of knowing the front-runners. In conclusion, it can cautiously be said that both direct and indirect contacts matter but to what extent and in what way they matter might turn out to be very context specific.
Online debate about climate change: Echo chambers and the structure of the climate news ecosystem
Hywel Williams | University of Exeter | United Kingdom
The future trajectory of the climate system will be determined by the aggregated decisions of the global human population, which will govern future greenhouse gas emissions and enactment of policies to mitigate, geoengineer and/or adapt to climate change. Personal beliefs and engagement with climate change influence climate-related decision-making at all social scales, including behaviours of individuals (e.g. lifestyles, consumer choices, political alignment), organisations (e.g. customer-focused business strategies, corporate social responsibility) and institutions (e.g. voter support for government policies and international treaties). Thus the social processes by which information is exchanged and beliefs are formed about climate change are central to understanding the coupled climate-society system and its evolution over time. Widespread use of social media and online social networks to communicate is affecting the ways in which individual opinions about climate are formed – and creating rich datasets which can be mined for insights into related social processes.
Here I first present findings from our recent paper (Williams et al, 2015) showing that discussion of climate change in social media is characterised by polarisation and echo chambers of like-minded users. Several forms of social network are constructed for Twitter users communicating about climate change. We classify user attitudes to climate change based on message content and find that social
networks are characterised by strong attitude-based homophily and segregation into polarised ‘‘sceptic’’ and ‘‘activist’’ groups. Most users interact only with like-minded others, in communities dominated by a single view. However, we also find mixed-attitude communities in which sceptics and activists frequently interact. Messages between like-minded users typically carry positive sentiment, while messages between sceptics and activists carry negative sentiment. Users who express negative sentiment are themselves the target of negativity. Users in mixed-attitude communities are less likely to hold a strongly polarised view, but more likely to express negative sentiment towards other users with differing views. Overall, social media discussions of climate change often occur within polarising echo chambers, but also within ‘open forums’ that reduce polarisation and stimulate debate.
Next I will present new work that uses network analysis to consider the complex media ecosystem that surrounds the topic of climate change. By extracting the embedded hyperlinks from tweets shared by users discussing climate change, and identifying the online articles and web domains to which they refer, we create bipartite networks of user-article and user-domain relations that characterise the online climate debate. Bipartite community detection reveals distinct clusters of articles and domains shared by different user groups. Comparing the networks formed by sceptic and activist users, we find that different viewpoints in this divisive debate are supported by distinct sets of online information sources (domains) and that different topics of debate are prevalent in different user communities. Our findings characterise the online media debate about this important and divisive topic.
Williams et al (2015) Network analysis reveals open forums and echo chambers in social media discussions of climate change. Global Environmental Change, 32:126-138.