Public Attitudes to Global Warming

2438 words (10 pages) Essay

3rd Apr 2019 Environmental Studies Reference this

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“Critically review the insights of research into public attitudes and perceptions of global warming and their value for climate change communications”.

Anthropogenic climate change is a global issue around the world, to the extent that a culture of consumption – induced from a carbon-based economy – has contributed towards an average increase in temperatures for both developed and underdeveloped countries (Schmidt et al. 2013). The true scale of human influence on climate change has created different attitudes, perceptions and values towards the issue (Chakrabarty 2017). At an international level, the main problem is trying to mitigate climate change, but discrepancies in public attitudes from countries (e.g. USA) will have a global impact on the level of adaptation and mitigation that can take place (Schmidt et al. 2013). The media however, are sources of information for climate change, and can help develop social representations that are communicated to an audience. Depending on how the information can be perceived or expressed, it can promote mitigation in a positive manner; but different types of media will not have the same effect (Schmidt et al. 2013, Jaspal et al. 2014).  Therefore, this essay will research into the insights of public attitudes from numerous different mediators, while assessing the impact on how climate change communications from the media can help mitigate the impacts that are created from climate change.

Figure 1.0 The Information-motivation-behavioral skills model (IMB) is based on an individual’s own behaviour and motivation (WHO 2003). With an information deficit (from the IDT), it prevents the individual from being motivated to change their behaivour. In relation to climate change, a lack of information will prevent a person from taking steps to reduce their impact, because they don’t believe or are skeptic about the concept (Olson 2011).

It is understood that how climate change is perceived is more likely to be considered in countries that are affected by the negative consequences (Schmidt et al. 2013). These perceptions are dependent on a country’s geographical location; for example, Australia is a developed country that is very exposed to impacts created by climate change (Chakrabarty 2017). However, despite the geographical location having an influence, scientists will still face challenges when trying to communicate the risks and consequences of climate change to a wider audience (Yale Forum 2014). The reason for this is that there is great uncertainty about the full complexities of the climate change concept, thus the audience that is being targeted needs to be educated more effectively (Yale Forum 2014, Kirilenko et al. 2015). As a consequence, knowledge that has been discussed from findings that have been ineffectively communicated to the public can be interpreted in different ways (Yale Forum 2014). This failure of communication results in part of the population rejecting or misunderstanding the scientific concept that is proposed, which is known as Information deficit theory (IDT) (Figure 1.0).  (Yale Forum 2014, Olson 2011).

When governments go to Global conferences (like the Paris 2015 agreement), they are not as equally as resourced with public discussions in their own nation due the degree of uncertainty (Chakrabarty 2017). The debates remain primarily focused on the experience, values and desires of developed nations in relation to climate change, particularly with the USA.

Addressing climate change in the USA is dependent on the mitigation and adaptation policies at all levels, whether this is at a local, state or a national scale (Howe et al. 2015). The public perceptions and attitudes in the USA have large variations, with only 47% of the respondents from national surveys believing that climate change is human caused, which is reinforced by Figure 1.1 (Howe et al. 2015, Lee et al. 2015). The American efforts to initiate climate change policies at a national level have been weakened, due to the rise of the Tea Party Movement from 2009-2010 and the election of presidential electorate Donald Trump, allowing a new Republican majority in the US House of Representatives (Maibach 2012). The extreme weather events that act as an indicator for climate change are geographically detached from most Americans, which reinforces the skepticism of climate change for the majority of parties involved in its discussion (Weber and Stern 2011). Clearly, sociodemographic and ideological characteristics will also divide opinions and perceptions of how climate change is perceived amongst the uncertainty (Smith and Leiserowitz 2013).  In theory, when there are high levels of uncertainty around a subject, individuals will look towards other groups to understand the appropriate context of what is discussed (Spartz et al. 2015). In order to understand complex scientific issues like Climate change, some Americans will rely more on the media to understand the norms and values of pro-environmental mitigation as well as the exchange of environmental information (Spartz et al. 2015).

Figure 1.1 The diagram shows the geographical patterns from the climate change opinion polls at an international level during 2007 to 2008. The results were based on the level of awareness (a) and risk perception (b). Despite the awareness of the American majority being well over 75%, there is a smaller majority in comparison that believe Climate Change was not a serious threat. (Lee et al. 2015)

Originally, anthropogenic climate change became a public issue during the 1980s, the scientific findings founded by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPPC) was focused by the media (Moser 2010). This nonstop coverage was central for the discussion and legitimation of climate change (Schmidt et al. 2013), but it also caused problems due to perceptions and awareness of audiences fluctuating in relation to media attention cycles (Moser 2010). At the current day, climate change is beyond what it used to be, as information is communicated through a number of different forms that includes social media (Moser 2010, Whitmarsh et al. 2013). Social media is becoming furtherly integrated into how stories are covered and represented, which is important to understand as different media types can socially represent climate change to specific contexts (Jaspal et al. 2014, Olteanu et al. 2015). For example, Leonardo DiCaprio’s 2016 Oscar Speech quoting climate change had increased coverage from the traditional mainstream media, but tweets including the terms: ‘global warming’ or ‘climate change’ had reached new records to a much greater audience (Leas et al. 2016). This is evidence to suggest that the way the information is expressed, can also determine an individual’s motivation and how they can help to mitigate towards climate change in a positive manner.

However, despite these successes from the media, ideological factors and demographical factors will still remain the same for some individuals. Therefore, climate change will always be represented as a false concept in some way, which means that the potential for mitigation to take place won’t be as successful as it should (Jaspal et al. 2014). In order to facilitate changes, Leiserowitz (2007) argued that the local and regional impact of climate change needs to be expressed, as highlighting impacts may help to increase the level of public engagement with issues related to climate change mitigation and adaptation (Taylor et al. 2014). Climate change is evidently a well-known issue, but the level of how it is communicated effectively across from mediators worldwide cannot be known (Schmidt et al. 2013).

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