Climate change communication from cities in the USA

Abstract

Cities in the USA engage in action on climate change, even as the federal government remains resistant to comprehensive climate policy. While experts generally agree that local level adaptation and mitigation policies are critical to avoiding the worst climate impacts, the degree to which cities communicate climate change issues to their constituents has yet to be fully explored. In this article, we evaluate how US cities communicate climate change-related issues, problems, and policies. We use a computer-assisted approach to evaluate climate change efforts by cities by examining the full text of press releases of 82 large cities in the USA. We first identify who discusses climate change, finding that many large cities in the USA address climate change in their public communication. Second, we examine the content of these discussions. Many cities discuss weather-related concerns in conjunction with broad collaborative efforts to address global warming, while city-based policy discussions focus more on energy and transportation efforts. Third, we evaluate the local factors associated with these discussions. We find that the city’s climate vulnerability is particularly influential in shaping the level and timing of climatic communication.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    The Mayors National Climate Action Agenda may be accessed at http://www.climate-mayors.org/blog/

  2. 2.

    Our usage of the term “vulnerability” in this study corresponds mostly to the expected exposure of a given locale to future climate-related hazards. That is, we focus on the external and biophysical dimensions of vulnerability (Füssel 2007).

  3. 3.

    See https://www.nola.gov/mayor/press-releases/2016/20160425-pr-planning-tool-for-adapting-to-climate/

  4. 4.

    Replication materials are available at https://github.com/traviscoan/city_climate_communication.git

  5. 5.

    The lists include 1) Climate Disruption Index (Weather.com), Cities That Could Disappear List (Huffington Post), or the Hallegatte Rankings (Hallegatte et al. 2013), which are based on projected sea level rise and storm surge risk. We also note how the Climate Disruption Index evaluates US cities (population > 200,000) according to vulnerability to sea level rise, extreme precipitation, drought, and heat, and average temperature and precipitation change. See https://goo.gl/j4c61m for methodology discussions and https://goo.gl/X771Rn for a response from climate scientists.

  6. 6.

    Specifically, our sample of 82 cities accounts for 982 million tCO2e/yr out of a total US city footprint of 6,232 million tCO2e/yr. See Jones and Kammen (2014) for more details.

  7. 7.

    See Holman (2015) for a discussion of issues of data availability and reliability in smaller cities.

  8. 8.

    Consider the following reference to “energy” by New York City mayor Bill de Blasio (November 22, 2015), “Because we embraced wave after wave of immigrants who brought their energy...”

  9. 9.

    Prior to training the model, we removed common “stop words,” stemmed, and converted the raw tokens to term frequency-inverse document frequency (TF-IDF) features.

  10. 10.

    See Appendix E for a list of starting base periods.

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Acknowledgements

For helpful comments, we wish to thank Anna Harper and participants at the 2017 Text in Politics Workshop, PolitcologenEtmaal, University of Leiden; the 2017 European Political Science Association Annual Conference, Milan; the 2017 American Political Science Association meeting, San Francisco, CA; and the 2017 Political Studies Association of Ireland meeting, Dublin. Any remaining errors are the authors’ exclusively.

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Correspondence to Constantine Boussalis.

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Boussalis, C., Coan, T.G. & Holman, M.R. Climate change communication from cities in the USA. Climatic Change 149, 173–187 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10584-018-2223-1

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