Check out the findings from a new study, “News Media and Climate Politics,” by the Climate Justice Project, led by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) and the University of British Columbia, on effective climate narratives in an age of “climate cynicism.” According to the authors: “It is often said that society is at a crossroads of climate change, and that is particularly true for how journalism will choose to represent climate politics in the future. News media can continue to direct a narrow spotlight upon the failures of governments, political elites and international negotiations. But to capture the full story of climate change, reports of failure could instead be juxtaposed with some of the countless ways in which individuals are coming together in new forms of solidarity, community and action. The path that is chosen may well have a critical impact upon how and if people who are already concerned and alarmed join with their fellow citizens and become active participants in, rather than helpless observers of, the politics of climate change.”
Here are the key results:
1. Success stories about climate politics have a positive impact:When participants read such stories, they were eager to learn more, and their perspectives shifted to become more optimistic.
2. People are especially excited by stories of entrepreneurial activism and everyday heroism — that is, tales of people who, through their own initiative and creativity, open up new spaces for political engagement for themselves and others. These stories provide concrete examples of the connection between individual and collective action. In the absence of this connection, desire for action can default to more familiar but limited ideas of individualized behaviour change (recycling, reducing energy consumption, etc).
3. As people increase their awareness and understanding of political successes, they are more likely to contradict others’ cynicism by bringing up these success stories. This is a strong argument for giving such stories a more prominent place in the mix of news about climate politics.
4. People engage more strongly with localized information about the causes and consequences of climate change, as well as solutions. Such examples make it easier to identify with and understand the issue.
5.Descriptive communication is more powerful than prescriptive: Moral injunctions to “get active” in climate politics are a common feature of environmental communication, and they may have some positive impact. But they also risk increasing feelings of guilt and frustration. On the other hand, news that provides compelling stories about the experiences of people who already participate in climate politics —including not only why they are active but also how that experience affects them — can provide a much easier point of entry into political engagement. People come to understand different forms of democratic engagement as normal activities that people just like them are doing (and enjoying).
6. Information about how to engage politically, and the effects of political engagement, is just as important as information about climate change science. While our participants were reasonably well informed about the science of climate change and about national and international climate politics, they had much less understanding of individual and collective political agency. News media could provide more stories about how a single political action by an individual (e.g. voting, joining an organization, participating in a campaign) can, together with the single actions of other individuals, create a collective political force with transformative consequences.