Thursday, 30 July 2015

Changing the communication on climate change

Debashish Munshi & Priya Kurian

Aren’t the red flags around freak floods, unprecedented heat waves, long spells of severe drought, and increasing frequency of unseasonal, high-intensity typhoons, cyclones, hurricanes and tornadoes enough to warn us of the perils of climate change? What about the slow and steady rise of sea levels that are threatening the sheer existence of nations around the world ranging from the Maldives in the Indian Ocean, Cape Verde in the Atlantic, and Kiribati in the Pacific?

Climate Change is real and scientists are near unanimous not only about its devastating effects on the planet we inhabit but also about its potential to create social and economic havoc with disastrous consequences for humanity. Yet, as we also know, nation states, especially the large and influential but fossil fuel-guzzling and polluting ones most responsible for anthropogenic climate change, are reluctant to take bold political steps to stem the tide. Year after year, the grand ritual of the United Nations-mandated Conference of the Parties (COP) yields very little in terms of tangible political change by the nations with the most clout.

The two of us were among 18 scholars and activists at an international symposium on Climate Futures: Re-imagining climate justice at the Rockefeller Center in Bellagio, Italy, this month to try and find alternative pathways to move forward and do something to push the agenda for a just climate action that brought together issues of environmental and social justice. 

While the deliberations touched upon a number of issues, including on how to approach the COPs, there were some interesting discussions along the side-lines as well. One of these discussions revolved around the need to champion people with a strong environmental and social conscience and a willingness to lead, who can be actively involved at the COPs and other meetings of nation states. In democracies, as many of the influential countries indeed are, the only pragmatic way would be to get such people elected to the highest public offices. On paper, the solution seems simple – mobilise people to vote for people with such a conscience. In other words, get the people most concerned about climate change to go out and vote for candidates who reflect this concern, and target and inform those who seem less concerned with focused communication interventions. In practice, of course, the challenges to such actions are many. Yet, they are nevertheless important to include in the array of measures advocated by climate justice activists.

Social science researchers working in the area of science and technology already have a conceptual map that can be the foundation for such a communication intervention. In 2009, Anthony Leiserowitz and his colleagues outlined what they called “Global Warming’s Six Americas” in which they classified the US into six distinctly identifiable groups based on their attitudes towards climate change: the Alarmed, the Concerned, the Cautious, the Disengaged, the Doubtful, and the Dismissive. Studies involving such demographic categorisations on attitudes to climate change have subsequently been extended to India and Australia as well.

Now, there is a study, published in Public Understanding of Science, by Julia Metag, Tobias Füchslin and Mike S. Schäfer of the University of Zurich on ‘Globalwarming’s five Germanys: A typology of Germans’ views on climate change andpatterns of media use and information’ which adds to the scholarship in this area. This study is currently published online ahead of print. Metag, Füchslin and Schäfer note that Germany too has this demographic divide but, unlike, in the US, there is no category of the “dismissive”.

What is particularly interesting about the studies by Leiserowitz et al and Metag et al is that they identify a direct correlation between the characteristics of each of the categories and their use of communication channels such as the mass media and the internet. By and large, those most alarmed by climate change used the media most and sought for information across a variety of media channels while those in the other categories had a markedly lower use of the media with the last couple of categories relying mainly on family and friends for sources of information.

As Metag et al point out, these “results are relevant not only for the scientific study of attitudes toward climate change” but also “for communication campaigns to raise people’s awareness of and actions toward climate change”. For example, since the ‘Doubtful’ “do not look for information about climate change intentionally but come across it during their everyday, routine media use”, this group could be “confronted with information about climate change unexpectedly on television, as ‘by-catch’ while watching something else”. Similarly, the ‘Disengaged’ who “do not engage much in environmentally friendly behavior, perhaps due to their lower social status, especially their low income” could be  addressed with entertaining information that “stress inexpensive methods for changing behavior” through tabloids, their preferred media. See the article by Metag et al for further details.

Targeted communication campaigns on changing attitudes could work hand-in-hand with political initiatives to get political figures most likely to work on climate action elected to decision-making bodies and with other initiatives, such as grassroots community-level work, to create a momentum towards transformative change for climate justice.


  1. Wonderful post. Great article. In this post is changing the communication in students. he top thesis writing help to develop the student's communication level by the way of writing papers.

  2. "Yet, as we also know, nation states, especially the large and influential but fossil fuel-guzzling and polluting ones most responsible for anthropogenic climate change, are reluctant to take bold political steps to stem the tide."

    Some of that is hubris, but some of it is also ignorance.

    The U.S. is in the cross hairs of the highest sea level rise, but we don't hear enough about it (You Are Here - 5).

  3. Wonderful information and useful ideas. Thanks ! online journalism is wonderful and famous programs for students can learning it easily.