Research Roundup for September, 2019

Highlights from recent research on the science of climate change communication:

  • Americans have grown more concerned about climate change over the last six years, but most of the shift has been among Democrats (Pew Research, 2019).

  • More than six in 10 Americans say climate change is a “crisis” or a “serious problem,” while a similar proportion say we should tackle climate change now or in the next few years. Americans trust scientists about as much as they trust their own observations for information about climate change. Views on climate change are divided by party, with Democrats being far more likely than Republicans to say that humans contribute a lot to climate change (CBS News, 2019).

  • More than seven in 10 Americans say climate change is a “crisis” or a “major problem but not a crisis.” Eight in 10 Americans understand that humans are driving climate change, though Democrats are more likely than Republicans to be certain of this fact (Washington Post & Kaiser Family Foundation, 2019).

  • A large majority of Americans see scientists as intelligent, skilled and honest, though slim majorities also believe they are poor communicators who feel superior to others. Democrats are more likely than Republicans to regard scientists positively. Those with a knowledge of science are also more likely to regard scientists positively (Pew Research, 2019).

  • The proportion of Americans who think the federal government should increase funding for scientific research is at its highest level in nearly two decades. Democrats are more likely than Republicans to support increased funding (Pew Research, 2019).

  • In its coverage of climate change, the New York Times has consistently failed to mention a few basic facts about the problem—namely, that carbon pollution is heating the planet, that carbon dioxide levels are the highest they have been in human history, that carbon dioxide stays in the atmosphere for centuries, that rising temperatures can be felt today, and that scientists agree on these basic facts (Romps & Retzinger, 2019).

  • Climate strikes on September 20, 2019 drove increased TV and print news coverage of climate change, as 36 of the 50 most-read U.S. newspapers featured the strike on their front pages (Media Matters for America, 2019).

  • Twitter mentions of climate change have increased in recent years, to the point where Twitter is influencing the way mainstream news outlets cover climate change. In this way, Twitter has created an avenue for climate advocates to influence the news. At the same time, however, Twitter has also become a major venue for misinformation about climate change (Jones-Jang, Hart, Feldman, & Moon, 2019).

  • A new study suggests that educating people to be more discerning news consumers can stop the spread of fake news about climate change. They recommend that, when encountering a news story, readers ask the following questions:

    • Do I recognize the news organization that posted the story?

    • Does the information in the post seem believable?

    • Is the post written in a style that I expect from a professional news organization?

    • Is the post politically motivated? (Lutzke, Drummond, Slovic, & Árvai, 2019)

  • Six in 10 Texas voters support government action to address climate change. Seven in 10 say that renewable energy should be the top priority when it comes to meeting the state’s electricity needs (Climate Nexus, Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, & George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication, 2019).

  • Scientists reviewed dozens of studies on how extreme weather shapes views of climate change. The research suggests that extreme weather has only a small effect on public opinion (Howe, Marlon, Mildenberger, & Shield, 2019).

  • After reading about the different ways that air pollution imperils human health, people were most concerned about the ways that air pollution harms the brains of children (Kotcher, Maibach, & Choi, 2019).

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