Research School for Socio-Economic and
Natural Sciences of the Environment
Research School for Socio-Economic and
Natural Sciences of the Environment

Kevin Broecks

Date: 31 August 2018
Time: 14:30 - 15:15
Location: University Hall, Domplein 29, Utrecht

Dissertation title: 

Solving the communicator's dilemma for Carbon Capture and Storage

Group: Utrecht University, Innovation Studies - Innovation Dynamics of Emerging Technologies
Promotors: Prof.dr. Marko Hekkert
Co-promotor: Dr. Frank van Rijnsoever

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Like many other emerging technologies, Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) has uncertain impacts, unfamiliar risks and ambiguous societal roles. These risks and uncertainties can spark controversy and public negativity. Consequently, its desirability may become contested and public support may falter. The public should be engaged in CCS development to unearth budding areas of conflict, steer development in societally beneficial directions and foster trust in institutions.

In engaging citizens, communicators face the communicator’s dilemma: communicators that include too few message components may omit crucial information, while communicators that include too many components may dilute their message’s persuasiveness. To solve this dilemma, we posed the following research question: What message components influence the effectiveness of messages that support or oppose CCS for different groups of citizens?

To answer the research question, we carried out four empirical studies, tackling four literature gaps: the limited understanding of the effects of (a) arguments in the CCS discourse, (b) moral considerations, (c) the relative importance of message components, and (d) heterogeneity among citizens.

Our results show that knowledge deficit strategies to communication are suboptimal. Many stakeholders believe that injecting citizens with accurate knowledge will induce positive opinions about CCS. However, such strategies are unlikely to engage citizens, risk alienating key audiences and neglect the trade-offs policy makers need to make between values, risks, costs and benefits. Our results show that communicators should instead appeal to norms, such as properly disposing of CO2 waste, focus on the consequences of developing CCS, and discuss how citizens will be involved in decision making.

Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) can contribute substantially to climate change mitigation. Yet, citizens find pro CCS arguments about this contribution relatively unpersuasive and unimportant. Furthermore, citizens find arguments that dispute this contribution relatively persuasive and important, especially those arguments that appeal to the norm that prevention is better than a cure. Citizens react more positively to the message when communicators discuss the consequences of climate change and explicitly mention that CCS is part of a portfolio of mitigation options.

To engage citizens, communicators should discuss additional benefits of CCS development, such as economic benefits, address the uncertainties surrounding CCS and provide explicit reasoning for why CCS can provide these benefits. Given the diversity of citizens, communicators should craft distinct storylines, focusing, for example, on safety and uncertainties or the role of CCS in the energy mix.

Although communication to the public is a vital component of public engagement, our results show that communication has limited effects, dissipates over time and often has unintended consequences, such as the boomerang effect. To foster public support, stakeholders need to engage citizens intensively and give them a voice and a vote in decision making for technological development.

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