Climate change, think tanks, denialism, scepticism, advocacy communication, lobbying, critical public relations



Global warming and its effects on climate present un unprecedented challenge to humanity. However, evidence shows that human beings are failing to adopt the measures needed to produce a sudden change in global trends and, at the very least, mitigate the causes of climate change. This project aims to contribute to the understanding of why we are incapable of reacting and in doing so help the key actors (politicians, journalists, organizations, citizens) to identify those obstacles that prevent change. Our proposal focuses on a key element in achieving this: the flows of communication and information that aim to influence the public sphere.

The key actors in a climate change scenario (politicians, journalists, organizations) mutually support and influence one another. However, in Europe, very little attention has been given to those who influence (or attempt to influence) these actors on the subject of climate change. Amongst them, the most important are interest or pressure groups. This project aims to study influence and communication on climate change by a group that has become increasingly popular over recent decades: that of think tanks. We aim to achieve this by focusing on a much under-researched sphere: the study of climate change denial in Europe. To this end, we offer a critical, interdisciplinary perspective, which is drawn as much from moral philosophy and sociology as from the political economy of critical public relations.

The main goal of this project is to analyse whether a consistent discourse of climate change denialism or scepticism exists among think tanks in Europe and, if so, identify its disseminators, the discourse and its impact. This topic, widely studied in the United States, is under-researched in Europe with regard to both think tanks in general and climate change in particular. Our hypothesis is that denialism does exist among think tanks in Europe and that, despite it having different characteristics to that of the United States, it is inspired by and has strong links with the denial narratives in use in that country. 

Climate change denialism is defined in this project as the discourse that questions any of the basic premises of scientific consensus: that climate change exists, that its causes are human-driven, that it is the most important challenge facing humanity, and that something can be done about it and we have the moral obligation to do it.

This research, therefore, aims to investigate the universe of environmental think tanks addressing climate change issues in Europe in order to study their structure, strategies, discourse and discursive coalitions and thereby identify the main related narratives they employ, the reasons supporting those narratives and their impact. This is designed to (1) contribute to the awareness of those obstacles that prevent humanity from reacting to environmental issues; (2) expand our understanding of think tanks, organizations devoted to providing knowledge to society with the aim of influencing it; and (3) provide an ethical reflection on the role of communication and influence regarding climate change in Europe.