In a week that has seen an unusu­ally high level of cli­mate change cov­erage among main­stream media (with the launch of the second part of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s three-part Assessment Report), the UK gov­ern­ment and national broad­caster the BBC were told they must improve the way they com­mu­nicate about cli­mate change.

In a report issued by the House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee,  the government’s strategy on com­mu­nic­ating cli­mate change to the gen­eral public was ques­tioned, as well as the quality of BBC reporting. The Chair of the Committee, Andrew Miller, had this to say:

[testimonial author=”Chair of the Committee, Andrew Miller.”]Given the high level of trust the public has in its cov­erage, it is dis­ap­pointing that the BBC does not ensure all of its pro­grammes and presenters reflect the actual state of cli­mate sci­ence in its output. The Today pro­gramme and other BBC News teams con­tinue to make mis­takes in their cov­erage of cli­mate sci­ence by giving opin­ions and sci­entific fact the same weight. Some editors appear to be par­tic­u­larly poor at determ­ining the level of sci­entific expertise of con­trib­utors in debates, for instance, put­ting up lob­by­ists against top sci­ent­ists as though their argu­ments on the sci­ence carry equal weight… The Government’s hands-off approach to enga­ging with the public and the media, relying heavily on sci­ent­ists as the most prom­inent voice, has a res­ulted in a vacuum that has allowed inac­curate argu­ments to flourish with little effective chal­lenge. [/testimonial]

The latter com­ments are per­haps the most inter­esting, as he sug­gests that a ‘hands off’ approach has res­ulted in a vacuum in which cli­mate sceptic argu­ments have flour­ished. These com­ments strongly echo Climate Outreach’s ‘Climate Silence‘ report, which argued that a pre­vailing silence on cli­mate change from gov­ern­ment, the media, and even cam­paigners had allowed scep­tical voices to grow in volume.

The pro­cess of con­sulta­tion leading to the report was thor­ough and involved. Many leading voices on cli­mate change com­mu­nic­a­tion, including Nick Pidgeon of Cardiff University were called to give verbal evid­ence to the com­mittee. A Welsh blog from the ‘C3W’ group of uni­ver­sities, sum­mar­ising the report’s find­ings pointed to some of Pidgeon’s comments:

[testimonial author=”Nick Pidgeon of Cardiff University”]The impacts of media reporting on atti­tudes may be less important than the actions and state­ments of the elite com­ment­ators (politi­cians, prom­inent per­son­al­ities, busi­ness and NGOs, and gov­ern­ment depart­ments) which prompt that reporting. [/testimonial]

Another pre­vious Climate Outreach/Talking Climate report – on the chal­lenges of enga­ging centre-right cit­izens – was spe­cific­ally raised in Pidgeon’s written evid­ence ses­sion by the com­mittee, who asked whether it rep­res­ented a useful approach for enga­ging scep­tical cit­izens on cli­mate change. Pidgeon commented:

[testimonial author=”Nick Pidgeon of Cardiff University”]Rather than appealing to a simple envir­on­ment­alist cata­strophic mes­sage, we should be thinking more widely about com­mu­nic­ating the sci­ence, but also then saying, “Let’s look at the solu­tions within a value set that every­body can agree with”. [/testimonial]

Its great to see this kind of advice reflected in the Committee’s report. Now, if the BBC and gov­ern­ment would only start listening too…

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One response to “‘Must try harder’ on climate change communication

  1. Attached is my revised prospectus. It still has a ways to go but I think the skeleton is starting to form. Here is a rough outline and draft of what I intend to say and explore in the prospectus:

    1. Climate change communications has failed to adequately convince the people how serious it is.

    2. Climate skeptical blogosphere is influential on media and audiences and is starting to blend with academia.

    2.5. After a literature review of content analyses relating to climate change media coverage a method and media is selected.

    3. Method is visual content analysis that categories and quantifies frames as used by different factions in the climate skeptical blogoshpere.

    4. The problem with audiences’ acceptance of messages accepting climate change is they rely on peripheral techniques like framing the climate change messages in terms of attacking deniers worldview, how the audience might be impacted in future (fear does not work according to breast cancer screenings), and not the direct more complicated approach of explaining the science in easily digestible information blasts like those messages effectively framed in the climate skeptic blogoshpere. Messages accepting climate change should focus on how the society will gain with action not how it will lose with inaction.

    Further analysis could focus on the levels of visual analysis (paper attached):

    The levels of visual framing

    Lulu Rodriguez

    Daniela V Dimitrova

    Iowa State University, Ames, IA


    While framing research has centered mostly on the evaluations

    of media texts, visual news discourse has remained relatively

    unexamined. This study surveys the visual framing techniques and

    methods employed in previous studies and proposes a four-tiered

    model of identifying and analyzing visual frames: (1) visuals as

    denotative systems, (2) visuals as stylistic-semiotic systems, (3) visuals

    as connotative systems and (4) visuals as ideological representations.

    These four tiers are deined and the process of identifying frames

    at each level is explicated. The proposed system can be applied to

    analyzing any type of visual media content or audiences’ perception

    of that content.

    Still looking for an advisor. Please help.

    Thank you

    Jason Thompson

    Journalism and Media Studies Graduate Student

    Office: Harry Reid Center Room 319

    Phone: 702-895-2798

    Student Assistant for

    Dr. Oliver Hemmers
    Research Project Director

    University of Nevada, Las Vegas

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