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Controversy around climate change reports: a case study of Twitter responses to the 2019 IPCC report on land

September 7, 2021

A study by Mary Sanford and CSSN scholar James Painter et al. examined the Twitter discourse around the IPCC’s Special Report on Climate Change and Land, finding that meat consumption became one of the most discussed and contentious issues in response to the report – despite being a minor part of the report.

Read the article in Climatic Change (open access).

Abstract:

In August 2019, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published its Special Report on Climate Change and Land (SRCCL), which generated extensive societal debate and interest in mainstream and social media. Using computational and conceptual text analysis, we examined more than 6,000 English-language posts on Twitter to establish the relative presence of different topics. Then, we assessed their levels of toxicity and sentiment polarity as an indication of contention and controversy. We find first that meat consumption and dietary options became one of the most discussed issues on Twitter in response to the IPCC report, even though it was a relatively minor element of the report; second, this new issue of controversy (meat and diet) had similar, high levels of toxicity to strongly contentious issues in previous IPCC reports (skepticism about climate science and the credibility of the IPCC). We suggest that this is in part a reflection of increasingly polarized narratives about meat and diet found in other areas of public discussion and of a movement away from criticism of climate science towards criticism of climate solutions. Finally, we discuss the possible implications of these findings for the work of the IPCC in anticipating responses to its reports and responding to them effectively.