The “Climate Unfiltered: The Narratives that Shape our World” presentation on October 9th focused on the main narratives detected by the NODES researchers in different languages regarding the controversial and polarised debate around Climate Change. The European Narratives Observatory warns about the rising polarisation in the climate change debate.
Narratives are the primary tool by which we communicate, assimilate and store information. Scientific studies suggest that we usually do not accept information based on the truthfulness of specific claims. The decisive factor in accepting or rejecting a given statement is our assessment of the source from which it comes (who said so?) and the narrative in which it is entangled (what is the story?). Therefore, studying how narratives are created and spread is crucial in generating a better information ecosystem.
On October 9th, 2023, researchers and scientists working on the NODES project held a presentation hosted by Nils Torvalds, Member of the European Parliament and Vice President of Renew Europe. The event aimed at sharing the NODES researchers’ preliminary findings on Climate Change narratives, the first of three topics (the others being COVID-19 and Migrations) that are the object of their pilot research.
Othmar Karas, First Vice-President of the European Parliament, shared his views in a pre-recorded message highlighting NODES’s valuable contributions. He stated, “The future of our liberal democracy and our Union depends on our ability to understand and counter disruptive narratives”. He also highlighted the growing concern about the polarisation of the debate about climate change: “Instead of uniting us, discussions about climate change are increasingly polarised by disinformation, false information and foreign interference. These developments are not only a poison for our democracy but also a threat to our common future”. According to Karas, “traditional methods are no longer sufficient. We need new approaches to protect our democracy and to increase trust. That is why we very much welcome the contribution of this pilot project. I am strongly convinced the future of our liberal democracy and our Union depends on our ability to understand and counter disruptive narratives”.
NODES’ research analysed a broad corpus of more than a thousand diverse publications, including newspaper articles, texts from portals, NGO action statements and social media posts from main news outlets, politicians and organisations in four European languages (Polish, English, French, Spanish).
Professor Andrzej Nowak, Chief Narrative Scientist at Re-Imagine Europa and Lead Researcher of NODES highlighted that the analysis undertaken by the NODES research team “shows an overall consolidation of the narrative landscape in the European public debate, in which narratives are mostly built around values and political ideas rather than specific claims or solutions. Moreover, the new narratives are mainly trans-topic; they connect multiple domains, from climate change to energy or food systems. Specific claims are embedded in a broader narrative context that often goes beyond specific topics”, he added. The work of Professor David Chavalarias, Research Director at CNRS and Director at the Complex System Institute of Paris IdF, clearly reflects, among other insights, that since the outbreak of the war in Ukraine, we have seen a significant increase in climate scepticism (+ 8% in France).
The qualitative analysis allowed researchers to map stories and their associated values, showing the full spectrum of narrative alternatives available to today’s broad audience. At the same time, quantitative analysis methods resulted in the identification of recurrent patterns and motives and their clustering as variants of standard narratives, thus allowing them to draft a map of sceptical and pro-action narratives, all of which can be associated with a set of intelligible values and anti-values. Overall, the analyses undertaken by the NODES researchers highlight a re-consolidation of the narrative landscape of the public debate in Europe, in which narratives are built around values and political ideas rather than specific claims or solutions. Moreover, the new narratives are mainly trans-topic. They connect multiple domains, from climate change to energy or food systems.
The aim of the event was to show in detail how these stories became the main channels of communication around climate issues, how their popularity changes over time and in connection with relevant events happening in the world, and which of these narratives are used as a vehicle of disinformation on climate change. The narrative analysis enabled the NODES research team to identify seven mainstream narratives, usually associated with distinctive dictionaries and imagery. Each of them is linked to a specific set of values. However, despite big narrative rifts, some values are shared between sceptical and pro-climate narrative communities. This finding may suggest effective strategies for depolarising the debate and restoring the reliability of information in the public sphere.
Fig.1 – The seven main narratives on climate change identified by NODES researchers
The NODES project, under the scientific leadership of Professor Andrzej Nowak, brings together relevant scientists from across Europe, such as Professor David Chavalarias, Guido Caldarelli, Professor of Physics at Università Ca’ Foscari Venezia; Emmanuel Vincent, Science Feedback’s founder and director, and Re-Imagine Europa’s Contemporary Mythologies Scholar Marcin Napiórkowski.
They cooperate with journalists, fact-checkers, other practitioners and prominent experts on disinformation, media ecosystem, psychology and neuroscience, intending to develop a transferable methodology to measure the impact of narratives and identify potential patterns to create positive, constructive narratives which can help depolarise the public debate.
The “Narratives Observatory combatting Disinformation in Europe Systemically” (NODES) is a Pilot project co-funded by the European Commission to deploy the power of narratives to tackle disinformation within the European public sphere. Led by the European think tank Re-Imagine Europa, co-funded by the European Commission. It includes top-level institutions and organisations such as Agence France-Presse (AFP), the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS), PlusValue, Sotrender, Science Feedback, and Università Ca’ Foscari Venezia.
For further information regarding the NODES project or a potential interview with the project’s leading scientists, contact the NODES management team at email@example.com.