In 2007, Climate Change Falls Short of Top 20 Public Issues
Matthew C. Nisbet, Ph.D. is Associate Professor of Communication Studies, Public Policy, and Urban Affairs at Northeastern University. Nisbet studies the role of communication and advocacy in policymaking and public affairs, focusing on debates over over climate change, energy, and sustainability. Among awards and recognition, Nisbet has been a Visiting Shorenstein Fellow on Press, Politics, and Public Policy at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, a Health Policy Investigator at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and a Google Science Communication Fellow. In 2011, the editors at the journal Nature recommended Nisbet's research as “essential reading for anyone with a passing interest in the climate change debate,” and the New Republic highlighted his work as a “fascinating dissection of the shortcomings of climate activism."
Pew has released its annual analysis of the top 20 most followed news stories of the year by the public. Pew pairs the survey data with a summary of their weekly news agenda tracking. For regular readers of this blog, you should not be surprised that climate change fails to crack the top 20 most followed issues or the top 20 most covered topics of 2007. (See previous posts here, and here.)
Several issues appear in the top 20 agenda items that are incidental to climate change including gas prices, periodic heat or cold waves, wild fires, and even the economy. In terms of effective public communication, if you are going to raise the public profile of climate change, one challenge is to figure out how to meaningfully and accurately connect the dots on these other agenda items, drawing attention to climate change by "riding piggyback" on focusing events.
One possible strategy is for scientists and environmental groups to put carefully vetted crisis communication plans in place so when wild fires, heat waves, skyrocketing gas prices, or other focusing events occur, each group can communicate in an accurate and coordinated way about the relevance of global climate change.
For example, when the wild fires hit California earlier this year, the event could have served as a major opportunity for environmental groups to engage the public. Yet their efforts were either paralyzed or off target because of a lack of careful and thorough research and planning about exactly what the message should be and how to communicate the message in a coordinated and consistent way.
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