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Missed opportunities: the absence of climate change in media coverage of forest fire events in Alberta


  • Debra J. Davidson

    () (University of Alberta)

  • Anthony Fisher

    (University of Alberta)

  • Gwendolyn Blue

    (University of Calgary)


Abstract Extreme weather events that may be associated with climate change drivers offer valuable opportunities for public discussion of climate change. Such events tend to draw a high level of public attention, and they represent acute and personal impacts of climate change, unlike most climate-related information to which members of the public are exposed. Media coverage of such extreme events, however, appears to avoid linking such events to climate change. In one of few media analyses of the inclusion of climate change discussion in coverage of extreme events that are linked to climate change, we provide the results of an analysis of media coverage of climate-related threats to forests, including in particular forest fires in the Province of Alberta. This is a region in which forests, which are threatened by the impacts of climate change, are an important contributor to the regional economy, livelihoods, and lifestyles. Newspaper articles were collected from Alberta’s two largest regional papers, the Edmonton Journal and the Calgary Herald. Our findings show that coverage of forest issues in the media is dominated by fires, while discussion of pest outbreaks and forest sustainability are far less prevalent. While climate change is a topic that is covered in these newspapers as frequently as forest-related issues, there is very little overlap in this coverage and the articles that do discuss both forests and climate change are not associated with extreme events. In subsequent thematic analysis, we find that forest fire coverage tends to be restricted to discussion of single themes, particularly, risk or the economy, while avoiding discussion of multiple themes and their interactions. Mention of the causes of climate change is rare in coverage of either of these forest-related issues. Possible explanations for avoidance of climate change discussion in forest fire media coverage are discussed.

Suggested Citation

  • Debra J. Davidson & Anthony Fisher & Gwendolyn Blue, 2019. "Missed opportunities: the absence of climate change in media coverage of forest fire events in Alberta," Climatic Change, Springer, vol. 153(1), pages 165-179, March.
  • Handle: RePEc:spr:climat:v:153:y:2019:i:1:d:10.1007_s10584-019-02378-w
    DOI: 10.1007/s10584-019-02378-w

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Robert Brulle & Jason Carmichael & J. Jenkins, 2012. "Shifting public opinion on climate change: an empirical assessment of factors influencing concern over climate change in the U.S., 2002–2010," Climatic Change, Springer, vol. 114(2), pages 169-188, September.
    2. Lorraine Whitmarsh, 2008. "Are flood victims more concerned about climate change than other people? The role of direct experience in risk perception and behavioural response," Journal of Risk Research, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 11(3), pages 351-374, April.
    3. Megan C. Kirchmeier-Young & Francis W. Zwiers & Nathan P. Gillett & Alex J. Cannon, 2017. "Attributing extreme fire risk in Western Canada to human emissions," Climatic Change, Springer, vol. 144(2), pages 365-379, September.
    4. S. Michelle Driedger, 2007. "Risk and the Media: A Comparison of Print and Televised News Stories of a Canadian Drinking Water Risk Event," Risk Analysis, John Wiley & Sons, vol. 27(3), pages 775-786, June.
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