Risk Perception through Exemplarity: Hurricanes as Climate Change Examples and Counterexamples in Norwegian News Media

  • Kyrre Kverndokk Professor
Keywords: climate change, hurricanes, risk perception, exemplarity, risk society, semiotic worldview

Abstract

This article explores how hurricanes are used in news media to exemplify the consequences of climate change. This is done by a close reading of Norwegian newspaper articles on the hurricanes Katrina (2005), Sandy (2012), Harvey and Irma (both 2017). The geographical distance between the disaster areas and the media audience enables an exploration of how these weather events are made meaningful across long distances, as global concerns. The article shows how these hurricanes are textualized and turned into signs in nature that are pointing towards a climate-changed future, and how they work as modelling examples for imagining the possible disastrous state of such a future. It further argues that reasoning with hurricane examples is a certain kind of risk perception involving a temporal and spatial entwining of the future and the present, that represents a notion of cultural catastrophization by calling upon a fear of an uncontrollable disastrous future. The uses of the hurricane example in news media imply an epistemological shift from probability to exemplarity. This shift provides an argumentative space for climate change skeptics to perform counterarguments that juggle between probability and exemplarity. The article explores how this is done, and how statistics and mentioning of other hurricanes are used to argue that hurricanes Sandy, Harvey and Irma were not extraordinary events in terms of intensity, and thus that they cannot possibly be fueled by climate change. The climate change skeptics’ attempts to claim these hurricanes to be local and normal phenomena, independent of human action, may be regarded as attempts to de-catastrophize contemporary society.

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Published
2020-01-30