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How the Media Shapes Public Response to Climate Change

Climate change stories that give local information and emphasize positive achievements are more likely to encourage people to become active participants in climate change action than stories of political failures, a new study by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives has found .

Researchers worked with focus groups made up of 53 people from the Metro Vancouver area who were concerned about climate change, but had little involvement with climate politics, causes or organizations. After reviewing news stories with the groups, researchers found that the overwhelming response to news about climate politics was cynicism.

“While there was a strong desire for more aggressive political action to address climate change, virtually all expressed considerable skepticism that governments, corporations or their fellow citizens could be convinced of the need to address the problem,” the paper says.

“Even more troubling was the tendency of many participants to dismiss collective action and political engagement as irrelevant.”

Those taking part in the study were hopeful about the possibilities offered by collective political action, but were discouraged by the power that corporate interests exercise over the political process and the lack of political will to act.

However, when participants read success stories about climate politics, were given information about local “everyday heroes” showing initiative in their communities and were told about the local causes and consequences of climate change, they were more likely to become engaged.

“While many remained skeptical of the broader potential of climate politics, there was much greater willingness to consider the positive impacts of different forms of political activism,” according to the study.

Information about how to engage politically and the effect of political engagement was found to be as important as information about climate change science, the researchers found.

Media should juxtapose reports about failures with “stories of political initiative, creativity and courage that illuminate the countless examples of activism and engagement through which people in our communities and neighbourhoods are coming together in new forms of solidarity, community and action,” the study suggests.

“Our findings have implications for journalists and editors as well as non-governmental organizations that are communicating about climate change,” said co-author Shane Gunster.

“We saw clearly how news coverage can either increase cynicism or inspire action.”

Photo via Government of Maryland on Twitter.

Like a kid in a candy store
When those boxes of heavily redacted documents start to pile in, reporters at The Narwhal waste no time in looking for kernels of news that matter the most. Just ask our Prairies reporter Drew Anderson, who gleefully scanned through freedom of information files like a kid in a candy store, leading to pretty damning revelations in Alberta. Long story short: the government wasn’t being forthright when it claimed its pause on new renewable energy projects wasn’t political. Just like that, our small team was again leading the charge on a pretty big story

In an oil-rich province like Alberta, that kind of reporting is crucial. But look at our investigative work on TC Energy’s Coastal GasLink pipeline to the west, or our Greenbelt reporting out in Ontario. They all highlight one thing: those with power over our shared natural world don’t want you to know how — or why — they call the shots. And we try to disrupt that.

Our journalism is powered by people just like you. We never take corporate ad dollars, or put this public-interest information behind a paywall. Will you join the pod of Narwhals that make a difference by helping us uncover some of the most important stories of our time?
Like a kid in a candy store
When those boxes of heavily redacted documents start to pile in, reporters at The Narwhal waste no time in looking for kernels of news that matter the most. Just ask our Prairies reporter Drew Anderson, who gleefully scanned through freedom of information files like a kid in a candy store, leading to pretty damning revelations in Alberta. Long story short: the government wasn’t being forthright when it claimed its pause on new renewable energy projects wasn’t political. Just like that, our small team was again leading the charge on a pretty big story

In an oil-rich province like Alberta, that kind of reporting is crucial. But look at our investigative work on TC Energy’s Coastal GasLink pipeline to the west, or our Greenbelt reporting out in Ontario. They all highlight one thing: those with power over our shared natural world don’t want you to know how — or why — they call the shots. And we try to disrupt that.

Our journalism is powered by people just like you. We never take corporate ad dollars, or put this public-interest information behind a paywall. Will you join the pod of Narwhals that make a difference by helping us uncover some of the most important stories of our time?

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