UKERC Report

Senior Research Fellow, Energy, Environment and Resources
Catherine Happer and Greg Philo

Between 2011-12 The Glasgow University Media Group (GUMG) and Chatham House undertook a qualitative study of audience beliefs and behaviours in relation to climate change and energy security, employing focus groups and interviews. The aim was to examine the specific triggers for changes in patterns of understanding and attitude – and the conditions under which these lead to changes in behaviour. 

  • Energy security, suffers from low understanding and awareness, reflecting the lack of focused coverage in the media, which concentrates on aspects of different supplies rather than longer term availability or affordability.
  • The continuing politicization of climate change in the UK media not only leads to confusion and distrust but is a strong contributory factor in its dropping off the media agenda as the media will not consistently prioritize an issue without the sustained commitment of primary definers, most powerful of whom are politicians.
  • The resultant recent dip in media attention has encouraged people to think of climate change as less of a priority.
  • Tackling problems in the current economic climate are pitted against tackling climate change and the former is considered the more urgent of the two. There is a widespread culture of cynicism and distrust, which has led to feelings of powerlessness generally.
  • There is a general lack of trust towards politicians. As these are some of the voices the public hear most frequently on the subject, that has led to further disengagement. 
  • The one group who have any credibility on the subject of climate change are scientists, academics and researchers who are currently not at the forefront of the debate – as a result, scientists need to force these critical issues on to the agenda of politicians and the politicians then should employ their role as primary definers to raise the profile of the issues and the way the latest science is presented in the media.