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Climate change and lifestyle: people’s expressed motivations to adopt or not adopt a climate-friendly way of life

Changement climatique et mode de vie : motivations exprimées parmi les citoyens pour adopter ou non un mode de vie respectueux du climat
Kjersti Fløttum, Øyvind Gjerstad et Jon Kåre Skiple
p. 75-94

Résumés

Le changement climatique (CC) concerne aussi bien notre mode de vie personnel que la manière dont nous envisageons l’avenir de l’humanité. Le présent article étudie la manière dont les citoyens norvégiens expriment linguistiquement leur motivation pour changer ou non leur mode de vie afin de réduire les effets du CC. Il a pour point de départ 1 077 réponses librement formulées à des questions d’enquête ouvertes. À travers une analyse semi-automatique, les matériaux sont structurés en neuf thèmes, allant de ceux qui sont motivés pour contribuer à ceux qui affirment qu’ils vivent déjà une vie respectueuse de l’environnement. Ceux qui affirment vouloir changer leur mode de vie ne le font pas pour des raisons économiques, mais pour des raisons éthiques ou environnementales. De plus, les répondants soulignent leur contribution dans un contexte sociétal tandis que les connaissances et les craintes du CC introduisent l’impératif d’action à une échelle globale, impliquant l’humanité comme un agent collectif. Les résultats obtenus contribuent à la compréhension de l’emploi du langage et de la communication dans différents contextes pour traiter des défis et des solutions liés au CC. Cet article contribue également à nos connaissances du discours de changement climatique en tant que discours spécialisé.

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1. Introduction

1The aim of this article is to explore what individuals are motivated by when changing or not changing their everyday life in a climate change perspective, and how they express this through language. It is often said that tackling climate change and transitioning towards a low-carbon society require both political and individual action. Multiple voices, especially within politics and non-governmental organizations, have opinions on this matter. However, there are few in-depth studies on what individuals may be motivated by in this ever more important matter. Through a content and lexical-semantic analysis of freely formulated answers to open-ended questions, undertaken by a Norwegian survey, the present article will try to fill this gap.

2Living with climate change has become a crucial issue in public and political debates worldwide. Over the last 25 years, there has been an increasing awareness of the climate challenges we face as a society and as citizens (Hulme 2009), and especially so after the publication in October 2018 of the special report from the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), Global Warming of 1.5° C. This is “an IPCC special report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels and related global greenhouse gas emission pathways, in the context of strengthening the global response to the threat of climate change.”1 The message put forward in this report is first and foremost a challenge for nation states and international high-level politics. However, for individuals also this constitutes fundamental questions concerning how to live our lives.

3In fact, climate change concerns many aspects of our lives and affects how we think about different important questions – from our personal lifestyle choices as consumers, our political behavior as citizens, to how we perceive the fate of our planet and the future of humanity. Recent research (Fløttum 2017; Tvinnereim et al. 2017; Langaas et al. 2020) has shown that, when asked about solutions to tackle climate change, Norwegian citizens generally say, “We must all contribute.” However, what does this mean more specifically and what are the motivations behind individuals’ contribution? In this context, being simultaneously a climate concerned and oil-rich nation, the Norwegian parliament has approved a radical goal of achieving climate neutrality by 2030, which requires accelerated emissions cuts and contributions to international action.

4How do people relate the political and existential challenges of climate change to their normal, day-to-day life choices? The available research on what strategies or motivations people resort to in their lifestyle choices is limited. This paper intends to address this lack of knowledge by analyzing answers to open-ended questions on people’s motivation for climate-related individual action.

5Lifestyle is here understood as a way of living that reflects attitudes, interests and values of individuals, expressed in both work and leisure activities. Lifestyle issues that are often seen as relevant for individuals are related to transport, house building, energy use, consumption, food waste and holidays (Tvinnereim et al., 2017).

6More comprehensive knowledge about people’s preferences and choices is required in order to move forward in the interaction between political and individual action. In the present paper, we focus on Norwegian citizens’ opinions. In the global context, consequences of climate change and global warming are observed and experienced through a number of natural catastrophes such as ice melting, rapid sea-level rise, floods, heat waves, enduring drought, wildfires. While some of these are experienced in Norway, the common understanding is that Norway is not among the most affected and vulnerable, and is also well equipped to cope with climate change. However, Norwegians are concerned about the future in relation to climate change (Steentjes et al. 2017). When asked about what they think should be done in order to live with and tackle climate change, they list a series of different measures, with several topics related to lifestyle (such as transport/mobility, consumption, reuse, recycling, energy saving). They also clearly express a need for better instructions and guidance on lifestyle, claiming that authorities and politicians should facilitate low-carbon choices and thus contribute to bridging policy and individual action (Fløttum 2017). In the present paper, we intend to investigate, specify and explain these concerns.

7The main research questions are formulated as follows:

  • To what extent do Norwegians think they have changed their lifestyle in order to limit harmful climate change?

  • If the answer is “Yes, I have changed”, what is their motivation for doing so?

  • If the answer is “No, I have not changed”, why have they not been motivated to change?

8These are broad and quite general questions, but they are formulated in this way for well-founded reasons (see Tvinnereim et al. 2017). The aim is to obtain new and better knowledge on how ordinary citizens consider their possible contributions in the complex climate change matter and especially what may be their motivation to act.

9Through the analysis of materials stemming from answers to open-ended survey questions, new knowledge is generated on what “living with climate change” means to ordinary citizens in a modern and wealthy country like Norway. Importantly, the investigation will show to what extent there are explicit strategies or motivations underpinning the respondents’ opinions. The kind of knowledge provided here may give us insight about constraints on and opportunities for climate action, fundamental to climate change communication and thus to language and discourse studies related to climate.

10In the following sections of this paper, we will first give a brief overview of the state of the art through references to a selection of previous relevant research (2). Then comes the section on Material and method (3). In section 4, the results will be presented, first, through a Topic Modeling analysis accompanied by a selection of the answers given by the survey’s respondents, and, second, through a lexical-semantic analysis of traces of agency in the answers. To close the paper, we discuss the results in relation to the three research questions listed above (section 5).

2. Previous studies

11Several linguistic and discursive perspectives of climate change communication have been developed recently. A significant body of research is available on how climate change is represented and perceived (e.g., Fløttum 2014; Fløttum 2020; Fløttum 2017; Pearce et al. 2015; Tvinnereim et al. 2017). However, a paucity of knowledge about how lifestyle issues are communicated and responded to, through language, means that there is a need for research on this.

12We have also seen a growing body of social science work on public views regarding what should be done about climate change that provides a relatively detailed picture of policy preferences. However, the knowledge related to high-level trade-offs such as the role of government vs. individual action is less developed. Several studies have examined popular willingness to pay for certain climate goals (Kotchen et al. 2013), direct patterns of support for, or opposition to, various proposed measures (Krosnick & MacInnis 2013; Smith & Leiserowitz 2014) and whether the primary responsibility lies with individuals, governments, businesses or others (Lorenzoni & Pidgeon 2006).

13There is also an extensive literature on how climate change is portrayed in media coverage of political events (Boykoff 2011; Painter 2013; Schäfer & Schliting 2014), but to our knowledge no empirical media research addresses the coverage of issues related to lifestyle or motivation for lifestyle change in a climate perspective.

14Finally, there are several interesting and relevant studies focusing on various single factors related to lifestyle. In a study of energy-related behaviors, Von Borgstede et al. (2013) investigate how psychological factors determine self-reported energy-efficient behavior. Through a comparison between opinion polls from 2005 and 2010, they conclude that there was “an increased awareness among the public of the need for lifestyle changes, which could facilitate the implementation of policies promoting environmental behavior” (ibidem: 182; see also Poortinga et al. 2004). Food-related questions, concerning both food waste and food preference, have been the object of research reported in several studies. Through thirty interviews with householders in a city in the UK, focusing on daily routines, Paddock (2017:122) finds that food emerges as a particularly important organising principle. The author concludes that “food practice provides a nexus point around which change can be more effectively conceptualised for public policies aimed at inculcating more sustainable ways of life.” In a study of two surveys carried out in the Netherlands and in the United States, De Boer et al. (2016: 19) showed similar results, indicating that “a transition to a low carbon society can significantly benefit from a special focus on the food-related options to involve more consumers and to improve mitigation.” Some studies adopt a broader perspective of household and consumption issues. For example, Black & Cherrier (2010) study anti-consumption as part of living a sustainable lifestyle. Sixteen interviewed women were found to practice anti-consumption through “acts of rejection, reduction and reuse” (ibid.: 437; see also Middlemiss 2010). Various kinds of measures for emission reduction of greenhouse gases have also been studied in relation to individuals’ behavior and lifestyle. For example, Whitmarsh et al. (2011) have undertaken a study of what they call “carbon capability”, referring to meanings associated with carbon and individuals’ abilities and motivations to reduce emissions. Their survey in the UK demonstrates that the public has different understandings of “carbon”, “encompassing technical, social, and moral discourses”, and the authors point at implications of their findings “for promoting public engagement with climate change and carbon capability” (ibidem: 56). In another perspective, related to the possible influence of emotions on behavior, Sundblad et al. (2014: 13), in a study including 135 university students, found that “intentions to change personal activities to reduce carbon dioxide emissions [such as travel, energy use at home, food consumption, involvement in environmental organizations] increased with participants’ worry about the consequences of global climate change.” We could also mention Brobakk’s research (2017) presenting a survey on Norwegian farmers’ attitudes towards emissions reduction. A final topic to be mentioned is transport, a national and international challenge but also an essential part of individuals’ everyday life. In a survey conducted in 2013 in Norway, including 546 cases, Şimşekoğlu et al. (2015) studied the role of transport priorities and travel mode use attitudes. They found that old age, car use habit and priorities of flexibility were positively related to car use, while “[p]riority of convenience, priority of safety and security, and attitudes were significant predictors of intentions to use public transport” (ibidem: 113). For a study on attitudes towards electric vehicles, see Egbue & Long (2012), and for an investigation of tourists’ air travel decisions, see Hares et al. (2010).

15We also want to mention the book Inconspicuous Consumption. The Environmental Impact You Don’t Know You Have (Schlossberg 2019), but also various studies within environmental philosophy (by for example Dale Jamieson, Stephen Gardiner and J. Baird Callicott) and within social psychology (Andrew Hoffman, Dan Kahan and Kari Norgaard). For daily updates on other relevant aspects, such as concrete lifestyle choices related to individuals’ behavior, in addition to research on climate change knowledge, attitudes, and policy preferences, the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication is very useful.2

16Many of the research results we referred to above are taken from studies based on either a limited set of interviews or on closed-ended survey questions with optional responses defined by researchers. They have provided important knowledge on many central factors in climate-related lifestyle matters. However, the use of closed-ended questions may suffer from some bias, as they may emphasize different aspects of climate change and possible solutions than those respondents themselves would mention, if given a choice. Overall, it remains difficult to generate closed survey questions that convey the multidimensionality of climate change and mitigation. The present paper addresses this limitation with the innovative use of an opinion survey with open-ended questions (Stoneman et al. 2012), so that respondents can freely formulate their views and motivations in their own words (Fløttum 2017). The answers to such open questions are heterogeneous. They often bring in different voices, embedded in constructed narratives and colored by the respondents’ own framings, and thus provide nuanced and rich data.

3. Materials and method

17The survey items presented here, fielded during the summer of 2019, were undertaken through survey round 15 at the Norwegian Citizen Panel/DIGSSCORE (NCP), a representative research-purpose internet panel, with over 6,000 active participants. The NCP is an infrastructure for advanced social science data collection and multidisciplinary research (<https://digsscore.uib.no>).

18Our data consist of three survey items. The first question is formulated as follows: “In previous surveys, we have seen that many Norwegian citizens are willing to change their way of life to limit harmful climate change. Have you changed your way of life to help limit harmful climate change?” We should emphasise that this question focuses on mitigation, and not on adaptation, which would have necessitated another perspective than the one chosen here, i.e., limiting harmful climate change. The answer alternatives were “yes, a lot”, “yes, a little”, “no”. Of the 1,311 respondents who answered this question, 114 said “yes, a lot”, 955 “yes, a little”, and 242 “no”. Then we created two open-ended follow-up questions to be answered by the respondents in their own words. Those who had answered “yes” (both “a lot” and “a little”) received the following invitation: “We would like you to tell us what has motivated you to change your way of life. All replies would be welcome, preferably a couple of sentences, or just a few words if you would prefer.” Those who had answered “no” were invited to develop their answer in the following way: “We would like you to tell us why you have not been motivated to change your way of life. All replies would be welcome, preferably a couple of sentences, or just a few words if you would prefer.”

19We received 876 answers from the yes-group and 201 from the no-group. These 1,077 answers constitute the main data for the present analysis. Average response length for yes-answers was 18 words, with a median length of 12 words and a mode of nine words. The longest response contained 140 words; four responses had more than 100 words and 62 responses had more than 50 words. The total number of words across all yes-responses was 16,177. Average response length for no-answers was 29 words, with a median length of 20 words and a mode of 10 words. The longest response contained 228 words; eleven responses had more than 100 words and 25 responses had more than 50 words. The total number of words across all no-responses was 5,912.

20All data are translated from Norwegian. However, in the semi-automated machine analysis undertaken by the tool Structural Topic Modelling (STM; Roberts et al. 2014a; see below), the original Norwegian data was used. Thus, the results were also provided in Norwegian. A selection of the most representative answers, as statistically evaluated by the topic model, was then translated into English (discussed and finalized by two people) for the practical reasons of English language publishing.

21The large and heterogeneous dataset provided by the survey was subject to a combination of the topic analysis and a qualitative linguistic/discursive analysis. The first step was to read carefully the entire material in order to get an overview of the topics represented in the two data sets of 876 and 201 answers, respectively. This qualitative reading was important as a basis for assessing the output of the quantitative topic analysis. Thus, instead of relying solely on human coding of the open-ended answers, we base our analysis on recent developments in machine learning based on a quantitative analysis of textual data allowing for an inductive search for distinct topics in the text corpus. Topic modeling through STM generates topics using a clustering algorithm based on the co-occurrence of words across documents. We should add that multiple membership is possible; each response is typically estimated by the model to belong to several topics to different degrees. We define topic prevalence as the degree to which a single response belongs to a given topic, based on the words it contains (for more details, see Tvinnereim et al. 2017).

22We estimated our topic model through the STM-package (Roberts et al. 2014a) in R – R is a language and environment for statistical computing. Our topic model does not include covariates and is thus a Correlated Topic Model (see Roberts et al. 2014b and Blei & Lafferty 2007). We chose to run and manually evaluate models from the topic model in the range from four to nine topics for the yes-answers and from two to five for the no-answers, with three runs for each topic. These ranges are based on our first manual reading of the material and are also in line with lessons drawn from previous studies (Tvinnereim et al. 2017). Then follows a process of careful manual reading of all the runs. In the present case, the third run with six topics was evaluated the best for the yes-answers and the third run with three topics for the no-answers. These runs were the ones that corresponded best to the initial first reading impression of the material, the best expression of the diversity of topics identified through the manual readings, and will be used here for further analysis. However, we acknowledge that it may in some cases be useful also to consider a lower or a higher number of topics. But when the topic number is very low, the machine run tends to render characteristics of the material that are too general or broad, where important nuances may be lost. In contrast, runs with a very high topic number tend to render a division of topics that intuitively belong to one. Considerations regarding the number of topics run by the machine also depend on the survey question that is answered and the nature of the data that the answers provide (see more on this in Tvinnereim et al. 2017).

4. Results

4.1. Introduction

23In this section, we first present the main results of the topic model and the manual qualitative analyses: first the results regarding the yes-answers and second those from the no-answer dataset. We present two tables with labeled topics, both of which are followed up by a selection of answers for illustrative purposes. These examples are taken from the top 15 most representative answers included for each topic as assessed by the topic model. Presenting examples from what the automatic analysis provides as the most representative answers avoids the risk of picking (random) examples based on subjective choices undertaken by the analyst. There are some overlaps between the topics, but all in all the structuring has provided some fairly well-organized comprehensible topics.

24The labels created for the topics are given the form of a sentence, which represents a generalization of the 15 answers indicated as the most representative ones by the topic model. The formulation of labels is a linguistically necessary supplement to the topic model analysis, which only proposes isolated words for constituting a topic’s label. Tables 1 and 4 show that in order to infer a label that synthesizes the content of the heterogeneous answers, we formulate a quite general clause, introduced by the pronoun “I” and a verb expression that covers the main action or state expressed. For example, Topic 1 in Table 1 has the label “I consume less, reuse and recycle” while the words listed by STM were “less”, “plastic”, “car”. As shown here, with the word “less”, we sometimes selected one of the STM proposed words to be part of the label sentence. They were judged as the most discriminating terms (based on term frequency and term exclusivity in each topic) provided by the topic machine runs.

25After this content analysis of motivation, we undertake an analysis of linguistic traces of agency in the answers of both the yes- and the no-group, focusing on pronouns and noun phrases which can be used to construct such agency. Such an analysis provides insight into how respondents situate their own responsibilities and actions in relation to those of various communities, populations, governments and global actors.

4.2. People’s motivation for change of lifestyle

4.2.1. Topics

26Table 1 shows the six topics of the yes-answers, their proportion (from largest to smallest), with our manually proposed labels. The topics are ordered according to the topic prevalence, i.e., the cumulative share of the total responses with which they are associated.

Table 1. Topics represented in yes-answers about people’s motivation

for change of lifestyle

Topics

Labels

Topic prevalence

Topic 1*

I consume less, reuse and recycle

0.28

Topic 2

I want to contribute

0.18

Topic 3

I care about the future of our (grand-) children

0.18

Topic 4

I assume responsibility for nature

0.14

Topic 5

I am preoccupied with climate/environment

0.11

Topic 6

I am motivated by knowledge and fear

0.10

27*The topic numbers are ordered here according to topic prevalence, while they are randomly ordered by the machine as follows: topics 2, 3, 4, 6, 1, 5.

28The overall impression is that the topics are quite unevenly represented, with Topic 1 as a clear winner with a prevalence of 0.28. We will discuss this prevalence in the discussion (Section 5).

29Topic 1: I consume less, reuse and recycle

30In fact, the majority of the answers in this topic are not obvious responses to the question about motivation. They are rather a presentation of what the respondents do in their everyday life, not why they have chosen to do it. Here are two typical answers:

(1) I recycle, use more train. Buy less food and throw less food. Give clothes to Fretex [second-hand chain run by the Salvation Army].

(2) Recycling rubbish. [I] reuse clothes, furniture, etc. Drive car less. Throw less food.

31Topic 2: I want to contribute

32The reason for giving this label a very general form is that the respondents express a wish to contribute in some way or other. How and why they want to contribute can be developed in different ways, as is shown in the following answers:

(3) A wish to contribute so that we still have a (good) world to live in the future. With the help of good guidance, I could do better than today – think it is difficult to conclude as a consumer today about what are the best solutions. [I] miss also more political will to change in favour of the environment. […]

33In addition to the wish of contributing to a better world for the future, this respondent points to the need for more guidance to the best solutions and also at the lack of political will. The next answer expresses a wish to contribute to a livable earth also in the future:

(4) I want to improve the climate, since people will live on earth for still some time.

34A third example points directly at the necessity of reducing emissions, but also to the difficulty of living an environmentally friendly life:

(5) Want to live in a more climate friendly way. I want to do what I can to reduce emissions. Still, it is difficult […].

35Topic 3: I care about the future of our (grand-)children

36The answers that are classified in topic 3 express worry and care for the future, very often specified by a preoccupation for the future of coming generations, children and grandchildren:

(6) Anxiety for the future of children and grandchildren.

(7) All will contribute. My biggest motivation is to leave something useful/fitting to my children.

37Topic 4: I assume responsibility for nature

38The motivation expressed in the Topic 4 answers encompasses various aspects of nature, in particular the rubbish and the plastic left in nature by humans and the damage of conditions of life for various species:

(8) I feel a big responsibility for nature and all life, and think it is terrible to see how humans have reduced and destroyed the living conditions for other lifeforms. The individual must assume responsibility and accept so-called reduction of the standard of living. […]

(9) I am motivated by the concern for life in nature, and reduce my consumption with pleasure in order to protect natural life.

39It may seem that some respondents in the answers of this topic mix the issue of climate change with pollution in a very broad sense.

40Topic 5: I am preoccupied with climate/environment

41The last topic of the yes-answers concerns people’s general interest in and preoccupation with climate and the environment; this also seems to motivate to lifestyle changes:

(10) I have always been preoccupied with the environment. Excited with new solutions of renewable energy.

(11) I have been preoccupied with the environment and climate since I was little. I have myself changed my intake of meat to once per month or less. […] [I] try to reduce my own consumption generally both concerning unnecessary purchase and flights.

42Topic 6: I am motivated by knowledge and fear

43Focus in media and the continuous dissemination of knowledge on the challenges of climate change have made respondents motivated to contribute, and some reports also provoke fear about the situation. In the next example the respondent points at the inspiration of other people’s actions, through social media:

(12) [I] have done a little for a long time, cut out meat 14 years ago and try to limit flying, do not have a car. The motivation is to a large extent knowledge and fear. Especially the latest climate reports have been frightening about how rapidly we must change in order not to ruin life for ourselves and future generations. Difficult to feel one does enough, so it is very inspiring to see how other people find their solutions. Follow some profiles on Instagram/Facebook. Good to get dribs and drabs of practical doable actions.

4.2.2. Linguistic traces of agency in the responses

44What can the linguistic properties of the answers tell us about the categories in particular and the survey in general? Let us have another look at the question that was posed to the yes-group: “We would like you to tell us what has motivated you to change your way of life?” The question opens up for reflections around both internal and external motivational forces, such as values, emotions, economic structures, and policy. In this context it seems interesting to examine to what extent the respondents describe their own motivations as caused by the agency of others, particularly that of political actors. This could indicate the degree to which individuals tie their own motivation and agency to the larger societal and political structures. Also, to what extent do respondents pivot to include others in the lifestyle changes, thereby exceeding the scope of the question that was posed in the survey? In table 2 we find pronouns that can be used to construct such agency. These pronouns have been chosen because they can be used to introduce referents in the text, whereas third person pronouns can only relate back to an antecedent nominal phrase.

45This analysis is based on the 15 most representative answers of each topic in the yes-group, 90 answers in total.

Table 2: Linguistic construction of agency through pronouns

Topic

We

Everyone

Others

Sum

1

0

0

0

0

2

16

3

2

21

3

2

4

1

7

4

4

0

0

4

5

2

0

0

2

6

12

0

1

13

Sum

36

7

4

47

46“We” makes up over three quarters of the collective pronouns in the material, and nearly 80 per cent of the occurrences are found within topics 2 (‘I want to contribute’) and 6 (‘I am motivated by knowledge and fear’). In each case, the respondent is included in the collective that the pronoun refers to, but the scope of the referent may be highly variable. In table 3, we attempt to refine our findings by specifying what “we” refers to.

Table 3: Reference of the pronoun ‘we’

Topic

Family

Other social groups

Norway

Norwegian voters and consumers

Humanity

Total

1

0

0

0

0

0

0

2

0

2

9

4

1

16

3

0

0

0

0

2

2

4

0

0

0

0

4

4

5

2

0

0

0

0

2

6

0

1

0

0

11

12

Total

2

3

9

4

18

36

47In the use of ‘we’, two tendencies stand out: the pronoun refers to Norway or Norwegian voters and consumers exclusively in answers under topic 2 (‘I want to contribute’), while 11 out of 12 occurrences under topic 6 (‘I am motivated out of knowledge and fear’) refer to humanity. In fact, all but five occurrences of the pronouns refer to Norway, Norwegians or humanity. When constructing collective responsibility or agency using ‘we’, respondents thus tend to focus on the national or global scales of the climate issue.

48We also counted occurrences of nouns and adjectives denoting various actors: “consumer(s)”, “voters”, “businesses”, “authorities”, “science”/ “scientists”/ “research”, “political”/ ”politicians”, “state”, “countries”, and “Norway”. Nineteen out of 21 occurrences are found in topic 2 (‘I want to contribute’), and the two most frequent nouns are “countries” (4) and “Norway” (5). If we consider both pronouns and nouns, topics 2 and 6 stand out as those which include other actors than the respondents themselves, while responses representing other topics tend to focus almost exclusively on the respondent. Furthermore, it is worth considering the difference between actors as motivators vs. actors as direct agents for change. Interestingly, only the three occurrences of science/scientists represent the first category, as in example (13), where the respondent mentions research reports as a motivating factor:

(13) Frightened by new research reports – and by people who refuse to believe that climate change is caused by humans. Even though what each person does for the climate does not lead to major changes, it is important with regard to shaping attitudes.

4.3. People’s reasons for no change of lifestyle

4.3.1. Topics

49Table 4 shows the three topics of the no-answers, in the same format and order as in Table 1.

Table 4. Topics represented in no-answers about people’s motivation for no change of lifestyle

Topics

Labels

Topic prevalence

Topic 1*

I don’t think my or Norway’s efforts matter

0.39

Topic 2

I do what is expected

(little travel, modest consumption, reuse, recycling)

0.34

Topic 3

I already live a modest/frugal life

0.27

50* The topic numbers are ordered here according to topic prevalence, while they are randomly ordered by the machine as follows: topics 3, 1, 2.

51Topic 1: I don’t think my or Norway’s efforts matter

52Among the no-answers, Topic 1 is the most frequently represented, pointing at “little me” or “little Norway” as insignificant contributors in the efforts to limit climate change by their lifestyle:

(14) I don’t think my way of life leads to damaging climate change, and therefore don’t see any reason for changing my way of life.

53Topic 2: I do what is expected (little travel, modest consumption, reuse, recycling)

54The respondents whose answers are classified in Topic 2 focus on what they understand as climate friendly actions that are more or less expected of all of us. Since they enumerate many different actions that they undertake, they do not see any reason for change:

(16) I think daily about how I affect the environment, I fly little, drive very little fossil-fueled car, buy new things to a limited extent, and am careful with the way I treat my waste. And this has not changed recently.

(17) I cannot see that there are big changes that I can do. Use mostly bicycle or bus to and from work, don’t buy new things very often, eat varied food with much vegetable but also meat and fish.

55Topic 3: I already live a modest/frugal life

56This topic is not very different from the previous one, but the answers here insist very explicitly on the respondents’ already modest and moderate life:

(19) I am already quite environmentally conscious.

(20) [I] already live sufficiently modestly.

57Here is a more developed answer, where the respondent seems somewhat offended (why should I answer this question – I already do a number of “correct” things):

(21) I have already been recycling, composting. I have already earlier avoided to use plastic bags. I have already earlier supported reuse of raw material, reduced new purchases of products that are only outdated but nevertheless applicable etc. I have already earlier […].

4.3.2. Linguistic traces of agency in the responses

58What linguistic traces of agency do we find in the no-group? Let us first look at the pronouns. This analysis is based on the 15 most representative answers of each topic, 45 answers in total.

Table 5: Linguistic construction of agency through pronouns

Topic

We

Everyone

Others

Sum

1

3

0

0

3

2

2

0

0

2

3

2

0

1

3

Sum

7

0

1

8

59Compared to the yes-group, the collective pronouns in the no-group are infrequent, and evenly distributed among the topics. Let us have a closer look at the references of the pronoun ‘we’, in table (6).

Table 6: Reference of the pronoun ‘we’

Topic

Family

Other social groups

Norway

Norwegian voters and consumers

Humanity

Sum

1

0

0

2

1

0

3

2

2

0

0

0

0

2

3

0

0

2

0

0

2

Sum

2

0

4

1

0

7

60There are no conspicuous differences among the different topics, but an interesting contrast with the yes-group is the absence of any reference to humanity. Lastly, we will look at the distribution of noun phrases denoting agency.

61Eighteen out of 21 occurrences are found in topic 1 (‘I don’t think my or Norway’s efforts matter’), and the most frequent expressions are “political”/“politicians”, “countries”, and “Norway”, each with 5 occurrences within this topic. The prevalence of expressions denoting agency in topic 1 is not unexpected, given that discussions around responsibility and agency are central to it. The question is whether actors play a role as motivators for change, or as agents in their own right. In fact, only 4 out of the 21 occurrences in total could be interpreted as motivators for change, through their capacity to incentivize climate friendly behavior: the two occurrences of ‘authorities’ under topic 3, and two of the occurrences of ‘political/politician’ under topic 1, as illustrated in the following example:

(22) I am motivated for change and do my part to contribute, at the same time it is a political responsibility to bring about environmentally friendly change to society. That is why I am positive about measures which force me and society at large to choose climate friendly solutions. In that way businesses are stimulated to offer and develop environmentally friendly options and we as consumers are stimulated to contribute.

5. Discussion

62Through content and lexical-semantic analyses, this paper discussed what a representative proportion of Norwegian citizens think about their motivation or lack of motivation related to the issue of lifestyle change in a climate change perspective. However, for future studies it would be interesting to expand the study, taking into account different demographic variables, such as age, gender and place of residence.

63Concerning the first question raised – to what extent Norwegians think they have changed their lifestyle in order to limit harmful climate change – the results are clear: a large majority think they have changed their lifestyle (114 answered “yes, a lot” and 955 “yes, a little”); and 242 answered “no”. An interesting question here is why the majority answered “yes, a little”. Is it because they are modest, or that they feel they have to be honest, or because it is difficult to know what is climate-friendly? It could also be that this answer is the one that corresponds the best to the reality. When thinking about one’s own everyday actions, how many of our choices do really correspond to a change of lifestyle? For example, if you change from a petrol powered to an electric car, and continue to use the car as much as before, then there is no change. If you usually fly 4 times a year and reduce that to 2 times, that would probably mean just “a little” change. These considerations may allow us to conclude that the question with its answer alternatives functions adequately, corresponding well to the reality of Norwegians.

64The main aim of this paper has been to study how the respondents express their motivations through language. The method of using open questions that provided 1,077 freely formulated answers proved to be fruitful to this end. The mix of machine reading and in-depth linguistic analysis led to a structure of six topics of yes-answers and three of no-answers. At first glance of the topic labels, formulated as short clauses, the findings may seem very general. However, the labels indicate central dimensions about the citizens’ motivations to contribute in the yes-answers and reasons for no change in the no-answers. The presentation of selected answers has provided a more detailed picture, and has also contributed to our knowledge of climate change discourse understood as specialised discourse. The kind of hybrid methodology undertaken, combining a quantitative automated machine learning method with a manual and qualitative approach, demonstrates various methodological challenges but also the possibilities offered by statistical and manual exploitation of large and heterogeneous language data sets.

65In relation to existing literature in environmental communication, which has provided important insights into people’s views on single lifestyle matters (see section 2), the present study can be seen as complementary, by taking a general perspective of individuals’ motivation or lack of motivation for lifestyle change. A general finding in the yes-answers is that the respondents recognize the responsibility they have and in the no-answers a doubt about the usefulness of individuals’ contribution. All in all these various opinions demonstrate the complexity of the issue of lifestyle related to climate change and should urge decision-makers and communicators at both local and national levels to provide more guidance to and facilitation for individuals to make green choices.

66When considering the yes-answers, it is particularly interesting that the most prevalent topic – topic 1 – does not constitute an answer to the question, i.e., the answers do not contain anything about motivation, but just an enumeration of what is considered to be climate-related actions. What may be the reason for this? Perhaps the respondents think that it is more interesting to show what they actually do than why they do it, or maybe it is their actions they want to tell about. Another reason may be that it is easier to list their actions rather than enter into deep thoughts about their possible motivations. We got similar results in a study where the respondents were asked to justify their view that individuals should contribute to reduce damaging climate change (Langaas et al. 2020). In general, a methodological lesson we can take from this is that we may not get answers as expected when respondents themselves think it is easier or more interesting to write about something else.

67With regard to the no-answers, it is noteworthy that relatively many among the respondents have answered “no”. It is maybe not so surprising, given the complacent Norwegian self-image pointing at us as a leading country in environmental and climate issues (even though a large oil and gas provider). This is an image that may lead to the conclusion that “I/we have done enough. If Norway is climate friendly, I am also climate-friendly. I don’t need to change.”

68Furthermore, we have seen various traces of resignation, especially in the answers claiming that one individual or one country, such as Norway, is too small to matter. The respondents of these answers do not necessarily have difficulties recognizing the problem, but they rather give up engaging themselves because of the complexity of the climate change challenges. However, there are also examples where the respondents are answering no to the idea of change, not to the idea of engagement: they feel they are already engaged so they have not changed their behavior recently, which does not mean they are not engaged in the fight against climate change.

69It is also interesting to observe that topic 1 of the no-answers, concerning the limited effect of individual actions or actions undertaken by the “small” country of Norway, is the most prevalent. This finding corroborates results in the study about individual action referred to above (Langaas et al. 2020). However, in the same study, the most clearly expressed motivation for action seemed to be the one concerning the awareness of humans being guilty for climate change and its consequences. We see traces of this preoccupation in many of the yes-answers. On the other side, in the no-answers, we have seen some – however very few – answers of rejection of the phenomenon of climate change, and thereby a rejection of doing anything at all related to lifestyle, such as in comments like this one, “The climate question resembles a dogma … and I am not religious.”

70Finally, we have looked more closely at the construction of agency through the use of collective pronouns and noun phrases. In 90 answers spanning six topics in the yes-group, there were 36 occurrences of ‘we’, most often referring to Norwegians and Norwegian consumers and voters within topic 2 (‘I want to contribute’), and to humanity within topic 6 (‘I am motivated by knowledge and fear’). This distribution would seem to conform with the general content of the two topics: When speaking about contributing personally in the effort against climate change, this is often done in a national context, whereas knowledge and fear about climate change brings in the imperative of action at a global scale, implicating humanity as a collective agent.

71Among the 45 answers spanning three topics in the no-group, there were only 8 occurrences of ‘we’. This is in line with our expectations, as those who have not been motivated to change their way of life have less reason to construct a collective that they are part of when discussing the issue. However, when we look at noun phrases, the numbers are very similar between the two groups, with 22 and 21 occurrences respectively. The high frequency of such constructions in the no-group could be explained by the fact that topic 1 is dominated by the point of view that individuals or small countries cannot make a difference, which can lead to shifting the responsibility to the political realm or to larger countries.

72Lastly, in both groups combined, there are only five references to actors or institutions as motivating factors in lifestyle changes. In the yes-group there is a particular absence of political action incentivizing such change. We have identified only one reference to political authorities in such a role, and only four references to these actors within the no-group. One reason for this scarcity might be a perceived lack of relevant political action, leading respondents to focus on their individual actions, in addition to general assessments of such actions at the national and global levels. Another interpretation is that the framing of climate change in the question, as an issue pertaining to individual action, conditions the respondents to focus on their actions in isolation, or on the aggregate effect of individual action (hence the frequent references to Norwegians), without considering the possibilities offered by political action. If this is so, this result would seem to indicate that climate change is not fully structured as a political issue, as the individual frame seems to cause people to discuss it as a question of personal behavior, in spite of the possible political implications of the verb ‘motivate’.

73There may be other motivations that we have not identified or that cannot be identified through surveys such as the one undertaken here, and there is a need to study this in more detail, especially according to people’s background, interests and values. However, the present study has contributed to highlight the importance of what people’s motivation may be, and thus constitutes a vital supplement to the studies focusing only on the measures and actions citizens think can help to change our lifestyle in a sustainable and climate-friendly way. This insight could be of great value to communicators and decision-makers involved in issues related to limiting the dangerous consequences of climate change. We have seen that people’s motivation profiles differ, and that they will use different strategies in different contexts of choice. In general, we have observed that the motivations are clearly environmental, to some extent ethical, and thus following more or less established trends. However, what is particularly interesting and perhaps surprising is that the respondents do not seem to take economic questions (such as various incentives) into account. This needs to be further studied.

74The linguistic exploration of various actors’ roles revealed a relative scarcity of political agency in the survey responses. It is unclear whether this is the result of a lack of knowledge regarding national climate policies, or whether the lifestyle framing of climate change in the question induced the respondents to consider the issue from a mainly personal perspective. Further experiments could explore the effects of individual vs political framings of climate change on people’s understanding of the issue, compared to other topics of societal relevance, such as health care, which is an established domain of public policy in Norway. Such a comparison could indicate the degree to which people have internalized climate change as a political problem, which would be of relevance for organizations, parties, and institutions that seek to inform decision-makers and the public.

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Kjersti Fløttum, Øyvind Gjerstad et Jon Kåre Skiple, « Climate change and lifestyle: people’s expressed motivations to adopt or not adopt a climate-friendly way of life »ASp, 79 | 2021, 75-94.

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Kjersti Fløttum, Øyvind Gjerstad et Jon Kåre Skiple, « Climate change and lifestyle: people’s expressed motivations to adopt or not adopt a climate-friendly way of life »ASp [En ligne], 79 | 2021, mis en ligne le 01 mars 2022, consulté le 20 juin 2024. URL : http://0-journals-openedition-org.catalogue.libraries.london.ac.uk/asp/7273 ; DOI : https://0-doi-org.catalogue.libraries.london.ac.uk/10.4000/asp.7273

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Auteurs

Kjersti Fløttum

Kjersti Fløttum is professor of French linguistics, University of Bergen; vice-rector 2005-2009; since 2013 member of the university board. Research fields: text theory, discourse analysis, polyphony, narratives. Head of cross-disciplinary LINGCLIM research group on climate change discourse. Most recent publication : Fløttum, K., et al. 2020. Les voix dans le discours climatique. Cahiers de praxématique 73. Personal website: <https://www.uib.no/en/persons/Kjersti.Flottum>
kjersti.flottum@uib.no

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Øyvind Gjerstad

Øyvind Gjerstad is an associate professor of French linguistics at the University of Bergen, Norway. His main research interests are linguistic polyphony and climate change narratives in journalistic and political discourse, and in survey discourse. Among his most recent publications : “Associations évoquées par le changement climatique chez des citoyens français et norvégiens” (Fløttum et al., Bergen Language and Linguistics Studies, 2019).
oyvind.gjerstad@uib.no

Jon Kåre Skiple

Jon Kåre Skiple is a political scientist (PhD) and Senior Researcher at NORCE (Norwegian Research Centre). Skiple’s main research interests are judicial politics and public opinion. His recent publications include The Government Deference Dimension of Judicial Decision Making: Evidence from the Supreme Court of Norway (in Scandinavian Political Studies, co-authored with Henrik Bentsen and Chris Hanretty).josk@norceresearch.no

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