Television is not the place to learn about climate change

By October 17, 2009 February 25th, 2013 Media, Psycho

A study released today from George Mason University says that the place where America spends the most time outside of work, is doing virtually nothing to educate the public about the climate crisis.

The study analyzed a hypothesis called "reinforcing spirals framework". The reinforcing spiral in this case is that knowledge of climate change tends to increase the amount of continued learning activities centered around climate change, for any given individual, and the more knowledge one has about climate change, the more likely one is to continue to seek additional knowledge concerning the subject.

This is a good description of the general state of public knowledge about climate change from Dr. Zhao’s report: "The phrase global warming first entered public discourse in 1988, when National Aeronautics and Space Administration climatologist James Hansen stated before Congress “with 99 percent confidence” that global warming had already begun (Dilling & Moser, 2007). Today, polls show that most of the American public is aware of global warming. Most Americans also believe that global warming is real, and that human activity is a contributing factor in global warming. Despite these perceptions, however, the American people still think of global warming as an issue of low priority. Furthermore, they believe that the ill effects of global warming are not likely to affect themselves, but people in remote regions of the world and nonhuman nature (Leiserowitz, 2005, 2007)." It is also important to note that 60% of Americans, according a Gallup poll, believe that climate change will not be a problem for them in their lifetimes (see here). Professor Xiaoquan Zhao’s report says that the average person get’s no significant knowledge about climate change from television. Zhao found that perceived knowledge of climate change (vs. real knowledge) increased the more one reads the newspaper or uses the internet. Perceived knowledge is that knowledge learned from any source that may or may not be accurate, reliable, true, factual, etc. The effect of television viewing on perceived knowledge was not significant; nor was is significant on perceived scientific agreement or concern over global warming.

Male respondents reported less knowledge about global warming than female respondents White respondents reported greater concern over global warming than non-white respondents. People with more
Democrats Party to perceive scientific consensus and feel concerned over the effects of global warming in the polar regions.

The public’s concern over the effects of global warming is an important driver of individual action and public policy. Research on global warming has shown that melting polar ice, sea-level rise, and the extinction of polar animals are some of the important images American people have about global warming (Leiserowitz, 2005, 2007).

AA parallel line of research shows that the U.S. media have adhered to the convention of balanced reporting when covering global warming (ykoff, 2008; Boykoff & Boykoff, 2004). This concept emerged in the 1970s with the inception of the "Fairness Doctrine" by Congress. The Reagan administration repealed the Fairness Doctrine, but the principles, which are exceedingly valid for political or issue based reporting, are no less valid. The big problem however, is that the media can not tell the difference between factual based topics and issue or belief based topics. What happens is that the media gives equal time to science based topics where contrary views of the science are submitted to the public as factually based different opinions. This works just fine when beliefs are involved, but the concept breaks down terribly when facts are presented as being either believable or unbelievable based on the opinion of the person being interviewed. Hence the reason why this study looked at "perceived knowledge" instead of actual knowledge.

Zhao, Media Use and Global Warming Perceptions_A Snapshot of the Reinforcing Spirals, Communications Research, October 2009.