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Too Much Attention - The Difficult Awareness Raising in Climate Protection

Markus Reitzig, 2019

Greta Thunberg's career as a climate activist began in May 2018 when she won a writing competition on environmental policy in Svenska Dagbladet. In the same year she spoke at the United Nations climate conference in Katowice, in January 2019 at the World Economic Forum in Davos, and in September 2019 at the UN climate summit in New York, to which she was traveling by sailboat. The media interest in the young Swede seems insatiable. It mobilizes countless young people around the world to take part in the “Fridays for Future” movement. A few days before the Nobel Peace Prize will be awarded in October, the bookmakers see Greta Thunberg as a possible winner. Your quota at William Hill is only 1.6 on October 10th - with the German Chancellor Dr. Angela Merkel is 21.

 

The Gallup polling institute has been polling the US population on global warming since 1990. In its most recent report, the institute shows comparative statistics for the years 2001 to 2019. This shows that over the years, Americans increasingly believe that climate change is man-made, has already begun, and will play an important role while the respondents were still alive. The general level of concern has also increased over the years. Overall, however, the increases are rather moderate to low. On a statistical average, 32% of those questioned were already very worried about climate change in the 200x 's. This value rose to just 44% in 2019. When asked whether climate change has already started, the values have even been falling again since 2017. And all of this, although the expert knowledge and its public reporting on the subject have increased many times over in the past 20 years. As if nobody really cared about this news.

 

The truth is more complicated and becomes clear when looking at the survey results for individual groups of respondents. This shows that the comparatively constant mean values of the entire sample over the years are driven by a polarization of the respondents. The number of “concerned believers” increases over the years as does the number of “cool skeptics” who neither fear nor see climate change. The group of those whose views lie between the two extremes diminishes over time.

What is interesting, however, is what characterizes climate skeptics or those who are concerned about the climate. In addition to demographic and educational differences, the main finding is that 77% of all respondents who are close to the Democratic Party of the USA are concerned about the climate, and none of them are climate skeptics. Conversely, 52% of all respondents who sympathize with the US Republican Party are climate-related, and only 16% are concerned.

As early as 2014, the American colleague Deborah Guber, on even less complete data at the time, noted the aforementioned polarization of American society with regard to climate change through party supporters. Your explanation for the fact that - despite the significantly increased attention to the climate phenomenon in the media since 1990 - the average attitude of Americans has remained the same and the polarization has increased is as simple as it is intuitive. When it comes to the complex issue of climate protection, voters are increasingly relying on the statements of the political elite they trust. But they themselves have been taking increasingly contradicting and hardened positions in climate protection for years and transfer this to their supporters.

The media attention that the climate issue enjoyed and enjoyed is claimed and exploited at every point by both camps. Concerned and skeptics alike see grist on their mills in every report. However, it could become problematic for climate protection precisely if those mills are no longer evenly watered for worried and skeptical people. Undoubtedly, the media interest in Greta Thunberg was used by the skeptics of climate change for their own purposes, often in a shameless manner. It seems questionable whether she will be able to change the mind of these skeptics, or who will not demarcate themselves even further in a row. At the same time, the publicity surrounding the young activist not only met with a positive response from those concerned about the climate. Some time ago, for example, the editor of the Kurier was very concerned, and rightly so, that the environment could become a fashion issue. But if the skeptics increase and the worried turn away, then on average the support for the fight against climate change would decrease.

 

Does too much media focus on individuals and initiatives possibly gamble away the otherwise climate-conscious people's interest in the topic? Should we go back to a less emotional discussion? Does too much attention hurt at the end of the matter?