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Politicos Steer the Climate Debate

Collide-a-ScapeBy Keith KloorFebruary 9, 2012 10:47 PM


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Do you want to know who really influences public opinion on climate change? It's not famous climate scientists (or climate bloggers) or Exxon Mobil, or even the media (well, just a little). It's politicians. They drive the debate (for better and worse). Don't believe me? Read this recently published study, which I discuss in a new post at the Yale Forum on Climate Change & the Media. For additional perspective, check out Curtis Brainard's take at CJR and this straightforward writeup, which includes a nice overview:

The study found that the state of the economy was the second biggest factor affecting perceptions of climate threat. The incidence of extreme weather events had no effect on American's view of the climate change threat. New research published in scientific journals had no impact on public views, but major reports on climate change and articles in popular science magazines did have a small but noticeable impact. The work of advocacy groups also had some effect. The quantity of media coverage also affected perceived threat levels, but that coverage was mostly a function of what political leaders and advocates were saying. "The most important factor remained the polarized positions taken by Democrats and Republicans in Washington," [co-author J. Craig] Jenkins said. "When our political leaders can't agree on whether climate change is a threat, the majority of people can't either. The public is divided because our political leaders are polarized."

My own sense (which I hint at in my Yale Forum post) is that climate activists and communicators are going to be flummoxed by this study.

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