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Climate Change Education Through TV Weathercasts: Results of a Field Experiment

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  • 1 George Mason University, Fairfax, Virginia
  • | 2 WLTX, Columbia, South Carolina
  • | 3 George Mason University, Fairfax, Virginia
  • | 4 Climate Central, Princeton, New Jersey
  • | 5 George Mason University, Fairfax, Virginia
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TV weathercasters are well positioned to educate Americans about the relationships among weather, climate, and climate change. Through a collaboration involving TV meteorologists, climatologists, and social scientists, we produced a series of educational segments to assess the impact of such an education. The educational segments were branded “Climate Matters” and aired over one year during the nightly weather segment on WLTX TV (Columbia, South Carolina). Prior to airing, we conducted a telephone survey of adult TV news viewers in the Columbia media market using random digit dialing (n = 1,068) to establish baseline measures; respondent screening was used to sample approximately equal numbers of WLTX viewers and viewers of competing stations. Approximately one year later, we resurveyed all available members of the baseline cohort (n = 502) and an independent sample of randomly selected residents (n = 910). The longitudinal data showed that—after controlling for baseline measures, demographics, and political orientation—viewers of Climate Matters were more likely to hold a range of science-based beliefs about climate change. A similar pattern of associations was observed in the independent sample. In short, Climate Matters improved the understanding of climate change among local TV viewers in a manner consistent with the educational content. The results of this field experiment suggest that when TV weathercasters educate their viewers about climate change, viewers gain a more science-based understanding of the issue.

CORRESPONDING AUTHOR: Xiaoquan Zhao, Department of Communication, Center for Climate Change Communication, George Mason University, 4400 University Drive, MS 3D6, Fairfax, VA 22030, E-mail: xzhao3@gmu.edu

TV weathercasters are well positioned to educate Americans about the relationships among weather, climate, and climate change. Through a collaboration involving TV meteorologists, climatologists, and social scientists, we produced a series of educational segments to assess the impact of such an education. The educational segments were branded “Climate Matters” and aired over one year during the nightly weather segment on WLTX TV (Columbia, South Carolina). Prior to airing, we conducted a telephone survey of adult TV news viewers in the Columbia media market using random digit dialing (n = 1,068) to establish baseline measures; respondent screening was used to sample approximately equal numbers of WLTX viewers and viewers of competing stations. Approximately one year later, we resurveyed all available members of the baseline cohort (n = 502) and an independent sample of randomly selected residents (n = 910). The longitudinal data showed that—after controlling for baseline measures, demographics, and political orientation—viewers of Climate Matters were more likely to hold a range of science-based beliefs about climate change. A similar pattern of associations was observed in the independent sample. In short, Climate Matters improved the understanding of climate change among local TV viewers in a manner consistent with the educational content. The results of this field experiment suggest that when TV weathercasters educate their viewers about climate change, viewers gain a more science-based understanding of the issue.

CORRESPONDING AUTHOR: Xiaoquan Zhao, Department of Communication, Center for Climate Change Communication, George Mason University, 4400 University Drive, MS 3D6, Fairfax, VA 22030, E-mail: xzhao3@gmu.edu
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