‘Must try harder’ on climate change communication
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:
“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.”
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 COIN’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:
“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”.
Another previous COIN/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:
“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”.
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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