Communicating climate change

Climate change is one of the major issues of our time, but presenting the science behind it and what we can do about it is proving to be a challenge.

As far as important scientific issues go, climate change is a big one. So what are the difficulties with presenting the science of climate change to the public? And do mainstream media do an adequate job?

An upcoming book by Victoria media studies senior lecturer Dr Angi Buettner will examine these difficulties and whether mainstream media are portraying climate change science accurately.

“I’ve looked at how popular climate change denial has become—it gets more attention than proper science. Unfortunately, climate change denial makes a ‘good story’, which is what drives most media.”

Angi says while it’s easy to bash the media for that, the issues are complex. “Climate change deniers have a strong agenda, and are often better at manipulating the media than scientists, policy makers and environmental activists are; plus they often have the support of powerful lobby groups.”

She says her findings so far are worrying. “There’s a huge gap between what scientists have learned and what’s actually out there in the public sphere. Good science, like the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) report, tends not to make it to the public arena, whereas things like The Day After Tomorrow, a Hollywood blockbuster action movie about a climate disaster, does.

“The future of any environmental issue depends on our understanding of it, and that is largely driven by media representation—how it’s shown and to whom. Scientists haven’t really gotten across yet why climate change matters for you and me right now, because it’s mostly negative information that tends to overwhelm people and they opt out.”

Angi hopes her book might help change the status quo. “There’s a lot of good work being done by scientists, but the future of the environment depends on whether we can communicate it effectively.”