Language and Societies

ANT/LIN 5320 at Wayne State University

The Language of Climate Change Mitigation Strategies in US Media Discourse: A Compound Carbon Metaphor Theme Analysis

The Language of Climate Change Mitigation Strategies in US Media Discourse:
A Compound Carbon Metaphor Theme Analysis

LH Sharp

Evaluating the language of climate change mitigation strategies, especially those addressing rising carbon dioxide (CO2) levels, is vital to understanding how our perceptions of complex subjects are shaped between media, political, and public discourses. The goal of this research is to build upon prior metaphor studies by identifying and analyzing dominant themes of compound carbon metaphors used by US television and newspaper outlets between 1990 – 2019 using the Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA). Using the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis that experience is informed and structured by language, this paper argues that a shift in dominant metaphor themes used in media over time can impact public perceptions of climate change mitigation strategies. Currently, climate change mitigation metaphors are dominated by market terms such as CARBON TAX and CARBON TRADING. While more research across a greater number of media sources is needed, a Marxist deconstruction of media-based market metaphors from COCA shows how a reframing of climate change abstractions into emergent conflict metaphors (such as CARBON BOMB) has the potential to influence public and political perceptions of and responses to climate change mitigation strategies.

April 12, 2021 - Posted by | abstract


  1. I find this an interesting concept, the idea that the change in metaphors employed in climate change discourse were to sound more life threatening then perhaps humans would feel some sense of urgency in tackling this problem. As seen in peoples lack of discipline to stick to a large and prolonged goal I find that the idea of people sacrificing a little in the present moment is often meet with resistance. Comments which either deflect responsibility, “Why should we pay? While China is going to continue polluting.” or disengage from the fight because it seems like an insurmountable challenge, “I am just one person, what good will it do if I change my consumption habits?” Perhaps it is the emphasis on individuality within the American cultural which keeps people from looking beyond their own current situation and sacrifice for the greater good. The reframing of the climate crisis into a collective action everyone can partake in for the greater good may be a better way to solve this global problem than telling people the only way to fix it is by giving up their money and lifestyle. People seem to come together to help when the actual crisis is unfolding before their eyes verses doing what is necessary to prevent it from happening in the first place.

    Comment by nmullins09 | April 24, 2021 | Reply

  2. This is an interesting topic. I’ve never thought about how contemporary metaphors related to climate change impact audience members today. Especially, using terminology like carbon tax and carbon trading. It gives the impression of economic/capitalistic undertones. However, using terminology like ‘carbon bomb’ gives a whole new impression that something serious and dire is happening that requires an immediate response.

    Comment by Antione M | April 25, 2021 | Reply

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