Breaking the ice : slowly warming to the topic of climate change : quantifying German students’ perceptions of climate change and testing framing to communicate the topic

University essay from Lunds universitet/LUCSUS

Abstract: As current approaches of climate change communication addressing the public have proven rather ineffective not triggering action on climate change, including behaviour changes in a more sustainable direction, this thesis seeks to lay the basis for prospective climate change communication strategies addressing German university students and therefore, to contribute to climate change communication science. Thus, the knowledge gained in this thesis can inform future research as well as practical approaches of climate change communication targeting German university students. The problem is approached in a two-fold way. In the first part, current perceptions of German students on the topic of climate change are assessed to gain a deeper understanding of the status quo. In the second part, three different frames to communicate the topic of climate change namely alarmism, common human identity and unicivilization are tested with regards to the emotional state that they create. This is done following a quantitative approach by conducting an online survey and analyzing the data statistically. Findings suggest that there is a good point of departure for prospective climate change communication approaches to be effective. Overall the necessary conditions and favourable attitudes for change to occur are in place. German university students, who took part in the online survey, seem to be an easily accessible and receptive target audience once an appropriate climate change communication strategy is crafted. A majority, about 94,1% of the students having taken part in the online survey, thinks of climate change as a serious problem. Interestingly, also a plurality of them demands more information on the topic of climate change. Furthermore, interpersonal communication about the topic of climate change occurs when talking face to face, but almost never in the online space. An appropriate framing of the issue of climate change could not be found within this thesis. However, the results indicate that the common human identity framing is possibly the most suitable to bring the message of climate change across when targeting German students.

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