Considering the Reality of Climate Change: A Qualitative Analysis


2017 has been a tough year for America with regards to acting on climate change. The notion of climate change itself and the appropriate responses to the issue have been more polarizing than ever. The inefficiency resulting from such varied opinions and a largely climate change denying government has led to little recent American action taken on the issue. This difficult situation has promoted a great deal of anxiety that we must be mindful of, as New York Times author David Brooks points out, we must “have the courage to rest in anxiety and not try to quickly escape it.” In such scrambled, anxious times, it is important to consider how to effectively communicate about climate change across such varying beliefs. Many factors go into a person’s beliefs regarding climate change and a lot of these depend on a person’s political as well as cultural surroundings. Since these aspects of life are so different for so many people, figuring out how to cross these boundaries and generate healthy discussion can be a major challenge. With regards to the challenge of communication, it is also important to practice modesty and listen to other’s viewpoints with an open mind. 

Listening provides the backbone of this analysis as we explored the views of several Lewis & Clark students regarding climate change. Through conducting interviews and running some qualitative analyses, we gained insight on the several ways in which people think about climate change and how they approach disagreement regarding the issue.


The textual material we gathered for qualitative analysis all consisted of interview transcriptions. Each of us conducted 2-3 one on one interviews regarding beliefs on climate change and methods of communication regarding the issue. Some guidelines for the open-ended questions asked in these interviews included: a question about the issue of climate change itself, experiences communicating with someone who hold’s a different opinion on the issue, and the willingness to have such a conversation. All interviews were recorded with consent and transcribed.

Below is a list of the questions we asked interview participants.

When I say “climate change” what images or scenarios come to mind?  

Can you tell me what you know about climate change and what you want the government to do about it?

How do you think climate change will affect you? Others? In what time span?

What do you think are the most effective ways of combating climate change?

Have you ever known anyone who has a differing viewpoint on climate change from you?

How have you been able to interact with that person regarding climate change?

If you could talk to someone who doesn’t believe in climate change, would you? How would you approach that conversation?

Upon conducting these interviews and transcribing them, we ran a qualitative analysis using Voyant Tools to dissect the transcriptions with regards to word frequency. As for comparing the overall themes of the interviews, we discussed our separate conversations as a lab group and noted significant similarities or differences.



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The figure above is a cirrus or word cluster in which words that occur more frequently in the interviews appear in larger font. According to this analysis, the words: real (15), conversation (12), opinions (12), government (9), and school (9) were most frequently used in these interviews. This suggests that themes of institutional action, education, communication and value systems were prominent in all interviews conducted.

Although the cirrus above displays frequently used terms, the context in which these terms were used was discovered through reading the transcriptions ourselves and discussing them. Upon listening to my lab team mates, it seemed like all of the interviewees agreed that climate change is real and a lot have apocalyptic perspectives on the issue. This implies lots of anxiety, as David Brooks pointed out in his New York Times article. Besides apocalyptic visions regarding climate change, many interviewees brought up concerns regarding the ocean and weather fluctuations – two well known consequences of a warming planet. Everyone interviewed also shared the idea that institutional action is the most effective form of combating climate change. However, most interviewees also thought that our current government isn’t doing enough. This is another major source of anxiety. As far as communicating with others, all of the interviewees have had experiences of talking about climate change with those of differing viewpoints. A lot of interviewees also noted the importance of not sounding too apocalyptic when discussing climate change with people of differing viewpoints. Approaching these issues with a calmer tone seemed to be an effective strategy of communication for those we interviewed.

Although interview transcriptions were sufficient with regards to collecting enough data to analyze viewpoints, filming the interviews would’ve added more depth to the analysis with regards to the variables of body language and vocal intonation. The tone in which one delivers an answer and how their body moves while talking both relay useful information about how one feels about a topic. I plan to take these variables into account for future interviews.


The Lewis & Clark students we interviewed are certainly aware of climate change as a major issue, care a great deal about how to address it, and consider communication to be important during these tough times. The frequent apocalyptic perspectives we got from students regarding climate change does draw parallels to the notion of anxiety brought up in David Brook’s article. Upon conducting interviews and analyses, it seems like most of the students we talked with are willing to “rest” in anxiety and be mindful of what a confused time this is for our nation regarding climate change. Although it can be tempting to shake off this anxiety and turn a blind eye to climate change, we must be mindful in order for progress to be made. It seems like most of the students we interviewed were very aware and willing to communicate with others about climate change.

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