I recently sat down with the DePaul University Newsline to talk about my research on climate activism and energy development. Below is part of that conversation.
Jill Hopke, assistant professor of journalism in the College of Communication, has dedicated her career to discovering the intersections of people, the environment and media. Her recent studies examine transnational anti-fracking activism on social media. She has also researched discussion of climate change solutions on Twitter during recent climate talks.
Read on to learn more about how Hopke’s research has transformed the way she approaches climate change in her own work and classroom.
Tell me about your most recent research.
I recently started a project with colleagues from the University of Wisconsin – Madison examining social media, specifically Twitter, in relation to the Dakota Access Pipeline and Standing Rock protest. The issue has been in the news again as President Trump issued a memorandum giving approval for the project to move forward in January. Work has since resumed on the pipeline. We are tracking how that protest emerged in the public sphere over the summer and into the fall. Most people are not aware that the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s opposition to the pipeline began prior to the spark of its wide-spread attention in August 2016. I’m exploring when, and why, the issue went from being relatively localized to being recognized nationally and internationally and what role social media played. We are comparing the movement against the pipeline to opposition of a proposed shale gas development in 2013 by the Elsipogtog First Nation in New Brunswick, Canada. There are distinct parallels between the cases, particularly the role of visual imagery.
How can we best approach discussions about the environment?
We are at a very interesting time politically for climate change and energy development issues. Both topics are very politicized, and it’s important to have channels for meaningful dialogue. From research, I’ve learned there is segmentation in social media discourse that makes it harder for meaningful dialogue to occur. My research on Twitter discourse about hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, revealed segmented “hashtag publics” of activists and industry supporters, with an absence of dialogue between the two. When we talk about climate change communication, we need to understand the issue is not simply a matter of providing people with more factual information, but base our communication interventions in social science research. There is a spectrum of opinion about climate change that ranges from alarmed to dismissive. Beliefs may be based on an individual’s background, their social networks, political stance or ideology. In discussion of climate and energy issues, we must tailor our messages to reach individuals based on where they fall on the spectrum of dismissive to alarmed.
Read the full piece on the DePaul University Newsline.