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Video and Slides from AGU Panel: Re-Starting the Conversation on Climate Change

Slides and synchronized video of the presentations from the AGU panel "Re-Starting the Conversation on Climate Change: The Media, Dialogue, and Public Engagement Workshop" are now online. Below I link to each of the presentations highlighting key themes or conclusions and the minute mark in the video.

Mass Media and the Cultural Politics of Climate Change

Max Boykoff, Ph.D.
University of Colorado-Boulder

Mass media serve vital roles in the communication processes between science, policy-makers and the public. This presentation reviews contextual factors as well as journalistic pressures and norms that contribute to how issues, events and information become climate 'news'. A particular focus will be on how these factors have contributed to misperceptions, misleading debates, and divergent understandings that undermine efforts at policy action.

Go Here for Slides and Video

--At 16 min 30 sec, Max discusses his research tracking patterns of news attention to climate change, showing that 2007 represented a historic spike in attention but the last part of 2009 may likely exceed this spike, at least if measured quarterly rather than annually.

--At 7 min, Max discusses his analysis of how the news media have characterized dimensions of the climate change debate. I found this part of his discussion particularly interesting. In measuring bias in news coverage of
any topic, media researchers need as a comparison a relative objective standard, a standard set usually when there is strong amounts of convergence in expert views on a subject.

--Drawing on a typology proposed by fmr. NY Times journalist Andrew Revkin, Max describes how on climate change, finding an objective standard by which to evaluate news coverage is much easier for narrower scientific questions such as "CO2 contributes to temperature rise" or that "human activities contribute to climate change." However, relative to policy questions such as the success of Kyoto or the merits of proposed cap and trade legislation, defining and measuring news bias is much more difficult.

--At 23 min, 40 seconds, Max reviews his research tracking bias in news coverage of the causes or factors contributing to climate change. While his analysis of the U.S. press finds that "false balance" in reporting of aspects of climate science appeared through 2004, his evaluation of coverage in 2005 and 2006 finds that this tendency towards false balance had mostly disappeared from U.S. newspaper coverage.

--At 32 min, 20 sec Max closes the presentation with several recommendations on how scientists and their organizations can improve their interactions with the news media.

How Framing Matters to Wider Public Participation on Climate Change

Matthew C. Nisbet, Ph.D.

American University, Washington, DC


This presentation discusses research analyzing the extent to which new frames of reference and narratives can generate wider public interest and participation on climate change. The results of qualitative interviews and surveys are reviewed, focusing on public reactions to various policy proposals and messages. The research is designed to provide scientists, policy experts, government agencies, journalists, and other stakeholders with practical guidance on how best to increase public understanding of the implications of climate change.

Go Here for Slides and Video.

--In the first part of the presentation I review the relevance of framing research to public engagement on science-related policy issues such as climate change. As I emphasize at the very beginning, this research is not intended to be used for advocacy purposes or to lobby for a specific policy outcome. Instead the research can and should be used by science institutions, universities, and news organizations to communicate significance and personal relevance in a way that expands the audience for an issue, increases multiple forms of learning, promotes dialogue and trust, expands the scope of policy options discussed, and ultimately empowers the public to participate in collective decisions at the local, national, and international level. [For more, see these articles.]

--At 13 min, I describe how the frames of reference presented via different media combine with individuals' own personal conversations (usually with like-minded others) to shape their interpretations of policy debates. This sociological process is especially apparent in how consumers use liberal- and conservative-slanted news and commentary found at cable news or in the blogosphere.
AAAS Pew.gif
As news and blog readers, even scientists are susceptible to this media influence. In fact, as I note, given the ideological and partisan leaning of scientists documented in the recent Pew-AAAS survey, this ideological orientation likely shapes many scientists views of political controversies and policy debates (see also this recent study). The reliably liberal outlook provided by prominent science commentators and bloggers only likely magnifies this tendency to rely on ideology as a cognitive short-cut in forming policy preferences and in assigning blame for inaction.

--At 32 min 40 sec, I discuss current research in collaboration with Ed Maibach and several graduate students that examines the potential to expand public engagement on climate change by emphasizing the public health dimensions of the issue. Our preliminary analysis finds that when mitigation-related policies are presented in combination with their likely personal and community health benefits, broad sections of Americans respond positively to these suggestions. It's likely that we have spent too much time and attention on communicating about climate change as an environmental threat and not enough resources on discussing the public health significance of the problem along with the co-benefits to public health that are likely to occur via a range of policy actions, especially at the local level. [Note there is a typo in one of the slides that I correct during the Q&A. Hint, it's related to meat consumption.]

Worldwide Views on Climate Change: An International Citizen Deliberation on Climate Policy

Gwendolyn Blue, Ph.D.
University of Calgary, Canada


The UN Framework Program on Climate Change is holding its next round of discussions to update the Kyoto Protocol in Copenhagen in December, 2009. These climate change policy discusions have always involved government representatives and organized groups such as industry alliances and non-government organizations. For the first time, an international effort to hear what citizens around the world have to say on the policy questions was organized by the Danish Board of Technology, involving the participation of 38 countries, each with 100 citizen participants. This presentation describes both the process of mounting such an effort and the outcomes from the participating countries, with particular attention to differences between developed and developing countries. The challenges for global governance will also be discussed.

Go Here for Slides and Video.

--Gwen opens her presentation by discussing the public engagement model relative to science policy debates and how it differs significantly from traditional approaches to science communication (see also these recent articles for more). Gwen defines public engagement as "a diverse set of activities where non-experts become involved in agenda-setting, decision-making, policy forming, and knowledge production processes regarding science."

--At 20 min, Gwen describes how this public engagement model informed the Worldwide Views on Climate Change initiative. Sponsored by the Danish Technology Board, the initiative featured deliberative forums in 38 countries involving an approximately representative sample of 100 lay citizens at each forum. The goal of the initiative was to bring together non-experts to discuss and deliberate with non-like minded others the many dimensions of the climate change problem and then to issue and vote on favored policy directions and actions. Importantly, as Gwen notes, the forum did not feature expert presentations or even an "expert in the room." Participants were provided background materials to read in advance and reference materials were also on hand at the forum.

--At 27 min 30 sec, Gwen shows a 15 minute documentary of the deliberative forum that was held at the University of Calgary and that involved 100 lay citizens from across Canada. This documentary effectively brings to life the nature and activities involved at a deliberative forum and I think readers will immediately recognize that universities and national organizations need to think seriously about allocating resources to sponsor these types of forums in cities and areas across the U.S. and other countries.

--At 46 min, Gwen closes her presentation by discussing how public engagement initiatives are an important innovation for increasing citizen participation and civic voice across levels of governance, ranging from the local to the national to the international. In fact, as Gwen notes, these new initiatives are greatly needed in an era where lay citizens and stakeholders are calling for increased accountability and responsiveness on the part of policymakers, scientists, and science institutions.

--At 67 min, during the Q&A, I raise the issue of how to fund deliberative forums at the local level. Gwen estimates the cost of the Calgary forum at $300,000, a function in part of the travel costs of flying lay citizens to the city from across the country. Local forums involving local citizens are likely to be less costly.

--In the discussion, I proposed an idea I have been pitching for the past year to raise resources for greater local level engagement. My proposal is that major research universities pool the public impacts money from NSF and other agency grants to then be centralized and selectively invested at the university level in different forms of public engagement initiatives. The planning, design, and evaluation of these initiatives would be coordinated by a university team of experts in public engagement, including faculty in the sciences, communication, education, and policy.

--Also part of the committee might be local stakeholders such as the local public media station (often university affiliated), the local newspaper, the local museums or science centers, the local library system, the local school system, local faith and minority community leaders, along with representatives from smaller colleges or universities in the area including junior colleges. Pooled public impacts money, planned and directed by an expert committee, could then be channeled into regularly occurring, state of the art public forums such as the one held in Calgary. Other investments would be in the local media infrastructure, subsidizing for example the public media stations' broadcast and online coverage of issues such as climate change while also providing training in schools and libraries for citizens on how to use and take advantage of these localized science media resources.
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