Date of Award

Spring 2006

Project Type


Program or Major

Natural Resources and Earth Systems Science

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Mimi Larsen Becker


This study uses an original content analysis categorical system to seek out and compare the substance of arguments in a quarter century of American news coverage about the ozone hole and climate change. Findings from an examination of more than 1,000 news articles written by The Associated Press, United Press International and The New York Times are combined with interviews with members of key stakeholder groups in both cases including scientists, politicians, industry officials, environmentalists and news reporters. The analysis illuminates the social and political processes at work---that is, those captured by the press---in the evolution of the Montreal ozone and Kyoto climate treaties. The study concludes: (1) The timing and structure of arguments in American news coverage of the ozone hole has paralleled the policy success of the Montreal Protocol in the United States over the past quarter century; (2) By contrast, the landscape of arguments about climate change is still very much a battleground---reflecting the mixed fortunes and current failure of the Kyoto Protocol in America; (3) Over time, the climate change debate has shifted from one about the legitimacy of global warming science to one about what policy action should be taken. This is underscored by state efforts to address climate change in absence of federal action; (4) Uncertainty about the climate change phenomenon has been a hallmark of climate change news coverage in the 25-year sample and one that has buffered calls for policy action. It seems to have derived from a combination of deft lobbying by industry, reporters attempting to "balance" coverage of a confusing, controversial issue, and scientists unwilling or unable to place their work in context. There are very recent signs that this is changing. The study includes a critique of news coverage and recommendations for news reporters, scientists and readers to enhance their communication about and understanding of these critical environmental problems. It concludes with an evaluation of the research model and its future potential.