Ocean Science And Vulnerability in the News: A Case Study of Reporting on Pacific Islands and Climate Change

Meghan Shea1,2, James Painter3 and Shannon Osaka1, (1)University of Oxford, School of Geography and the Environment, Oxford, United Kingdom, (2)Stanford University, Emmett Interdisciplinary Program in Environment and Resources, Stanford, United States, (3)University of Oxford, Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, Oxford, United Kingdom
Pacific Islands often exemplify climate change vulnerability, yet little scholarship has probed how these representations, including the ocean science underpinning them, translate to the media. This study examines newspaper articles about Pacific Islands and climate change in American, British, and Australian newspapers from 1999 to 2018, analyzing volume, content, and dominant narratives. These quantitative results are complemented by semi-structured interviews with journalists as well as Pacific stakeholders who engage with the media. We find that reporting on Pacific Islands and climate change focuses heavily on who and what are at risk from climate impacts; reporting on solutions is less frequent and dominated by discussions of migration. This study also explores the role of scientists, and scientific findings, in constructing these narratives about both vulnerability and solutions.

As we strive for ocean sustainability, it is crucial to understand how the media, prominent vectors for public engagement, depict climate change impacts and why these representations matter. An overemphasis on vulnerability potentially downplays the importance of the resiliency and action of Pacific Island communities and positions the Pacific as a site for climate catastrophe, rather than climate justice. However, recent reporting may be moving away from overarching narratives of vulnerability, motivating continued research into these depictions and how they promote or discourage climate action. This case study of Pacific Islands and climate change in the news can inform future research into the role of media communication in achieving ocean sustainability.