“Narratives Observatory combatting Disinformation in Europe Systemically” (NODES) is a Pilot project co-funded by the European Commission with the aim to deploy the power of narratives to tackle disinformation within the European public sphere. The “Climate Unfiltered: The Narratives that Shape our World” presentation on October 9th focused on narratives detected in four languages regarding the controversial debate around Climate Change.
Othmar Karas, First Vice-President of the European Parliament, highlighted the valuable contributions of NODES and highlighted that “the future of our liberal democracy and our Union depends on our ability to understand and counter disruptive narratives”.
The research shows that some of the values behind narratives are shared between sceptical and pro-climate communities, appealing to common underlying values like security, tradition, and freedom. This finding may suggest effective strategies for depolarizing the debate.
Narratives are the primary tool by which we communicate, assimilate and store information. They are the main means for citizens to understand the world, share their ideas and beliefs, and build like-minded communities. Scientific studies suggest that we 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 shared their preliminary findings on Climate Change narratives, one of three topics of their pilot research (the others being COVID-19 and Migrations). They analysed a broad corpus of thousands of data from newspaper, online portals, NGO action statements and social media posts from major news outlets, politicians, and organisations in four European languages (Polish, English, French and Spanish).
NODES’ qualitative analysis allowed researchers to create a map of 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-climate action narratives, all of which can be associated with different sets of intelligible underlying values.
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 arratives 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 scepticism (+ 8% in France).
The main aim of the event, hosted by MEP Nils Torvalds, was to show in detail how these stories became the main channels of communication around climate issues. The narrative analysis enabled the NODES research team to identify seven mainstream narratives, which are usually associated with distinctive dictionaries and imagery. Each of them is linked to a distinctive set of values. However, despite big narrative rifts, some of these values are shared between sceptical and pro-climate narrative communities. This finding may suggest effective strategies for depolarizing the debate and restoring reliability of information in the public sphere.
Othmar Karas, First Vice-President of the European Parliament, 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 your democracy, but they are 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 depend on our ability to understand and counter disruptive narratives”, he added.
Among the main climate change narratives identified and analysed were the following:
- We need to resist the green dystopia.
We lived a normal, peaceful life. Now, the world has gone mad. Green activists driven by obsession want to turn our world upside down. They ban everything, want to control every aspect of our lives and even break cultural taboos. We must resist the green dystopia, break free from the tyranny of the madmen and take back control of our lives.
Values: freedom, security, future, tradition, sacrum
Structure: disruption of stability
This narrative presents combat against climate change as an excuse for bureaucrats to take power and limit our freedom. As such, it is usually shared by the “climate-sceptical” community.
- The apocalypse is coming.
Our world is going to end soon. The harbingers of the apocalypse are already everywhere. We should act immediately to limit the damage already done and avoid even worse consequences for the future.
Values: security, future, nature, tradition
Structure: radical disruption
This narrative shows examples of the dramatic effects of climate change worldwide and is usually shared by the “climate activists” community.
The NODES project, under the scientific leadership of Professor Andrzej Nowak, brings together relevant scientists from across Europe, such as Professor David Chavalarias, Research Director of the Centre de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS); 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 ecosystems, 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 NODES project is led by the European think tank Re-Imagine Europa, co-funded by the European Commission, and includes top level institutions and organisations 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 us at email@example.com.