Blog post

Must try harder’ on climate change communication

Apr 2, 2014 by | 1 Comment
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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