Study shows power of media to shape public response to climate change

September 10, 2015

(Vancouver) A new study from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives looks at how the public responds to different kinds of news media stories about climate change.

“Our findings have implications for journalists and editors, as well as NGOs that are communicating about climate change,” says co-author Shane Gunster. “We saw clearly how news coverage can either increase cynicism or inspire action.”

The researchers conducted focus group interviews with people from around the Metro Vancouver region who are concerned about climate change but have relatively low levels of involvement in climate politics, causes or organizations.

Key findings include:

  • People with high levels of awareness and concern are often quite cynical about what political action or engagement can achieve (“political” in this context refers broadly to climate solutions involving community engagement, activism or government policy, which go beyond consumer choices or other personal behaviour change).
  • However, this same group can be inspired and excited by news stories about “everyday heroes” who take initiative or leadership to advance political action in their local communities or in global contexts.
  • Such stories of action generate more engagement than the familiar focus on political failures to address climate change, such as international negotiations, or information about actions like recycling. This is a strong argument for giving such stories a more prominent place in the mix of news about climate politics.
  • People engage more strongly with highly localized information about the causes and consequences of climate change, as well as solutions.
  • Information about how to engage politically, and the effects of political engagement, is just as important as information about climate change science. Those who are highly educated about climate change itself often have less information about how to take action against it.

For more information on the study, or for interviews, contact Sarah Leavitt at 604-801-5121 x233 or sarah at policyalternatives dot ca

News Media and Climate Politics: Civic engagement and political efficacy in a climate of reluctant cynicism is available at