Climate: Eternal stranger of the media landscape

How can climate settle in public discussions

While the urgency of climate change is becoming ever more pressing, climate issues are still little covered by mainstream media. Yet, an access for all to high quality information is a necessity for an informed democratic debate.

In the two months preceding the first round of the presidential election in France, climate change has been widely missing in public discussions. As the IPCC publishes its third report of the sixth assessment cycle, the presidential campaign prepares citizens for a choice defining the politics of the next five years. Yet, climate only accounted for 3.6% of media time on average (according to the Case of the Century association). An observation shared in the past years by Jeanne Gherardi-Scao, teacher-researcher at the Laboratory of Climate and Environmental Sciences (LSCE-IPSL). “In mainstream media, the subject remains anecdotic or superficial. What hits the headlines are extreme events, and the context of climate change can be mentioned, but even then, it is not systematic”, she says. Is the topic too alarming? Too complex? Is its interpretation on the long-term incompatible with the need of mainstream media to show the latest news?

To the researcher, quality information is possible: “Personally, I follow several media covering the subject, giving me the impression it is sufficiently addressed. But, in truth, we all have a tendency to get enclosed in a cognitive bubble, through our choices of sources.” Thus, people aware of environmental stakes know where to find information, whereas others are entirely deprived of them. “I am often struck when discussing climate topics with people outside my socio-profesional circle: the information they have is not the same as mine”, she adds.

Journalists: linking science and society

A part of the problem then resides at a smaller scale. A solution, to Jeanne Gherardi-Scao, would be “to succeed in identifying ways to build awareness among editorial boards to promote the subject, because the choice to tackle or not the issue varies widely depending on the chief editor.” The need to prepare journalists to inform on the threat of climate change is the impetus that led to the creation of the master degree Media and Climate, in which Jeanne Gherardi-Scao teaches. Created by the Institute Pierre-Simon Laplace, Paris-Saclay University and the Ecole Supérieure of Journalism of Lille, this programme aims at training media professionals on climate challenges and to imagine numerous ways to approach these issues.

Because to the researcher, the journalistic glance brings an added value: “It allows a global approach of the topic and a means to touch upon a wide variety of societal issues. It is not a simple task, but the ability of journalists to summarise is precious.” Indeed, climate change concerns a great diversity of sectors, from agriculture to transports, through urban planning or energy: it deeply unsettles our societies and asks for substantial evolutions, requiring public debate. “As a whole, I believe it is a loss that subjects linked to climate change are disconnected from societal challenges. I think there is significant work to be done in that regard” comments Jeanne Gherardi-Scao.

Translated from Marion Barbé for IPSL

To go further

Details on the master degree Climat & Médias