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Impact of the Climate Matters Program on Public Understanding of Climate Change

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  • 1 George Mason University, Fairfax, Virginia
  • 2 Climate Central, Princeton, New Jersey
  • 3 Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado
  • 4 The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio
  • 5 American Meteorological Society, Boston, Massachusetts
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Abstract

Climate Matters is a localized climate change reporting resources program developed to support television (TV) weathercasters across the United States. Developed as a pilot test in one media market in 2010, it launched nationwide in 2013; in the autumn of 2019 more than 797 weathercasters were participating in the program. In this paper we present evidence of the impact of the Climate Matters program on Americans’ science-based understanding of climate change. We analyzed three sets of data in a multilevel model: 20 nationally representative surveys of American adults conducted biannually since 2010 (n = 23 635), data on when and how frequently Climate Matters stories were aired in each U.S. media market, and data describing the demographic, economic, and climatic conditions in each media market. We hypothesized that 1) reporting about climate change by TV weathercasters will increase science-based public understanding of climate change and 2) this effect will be stronger for people who pay more attention to local weather forecasts. Our results partially support the first hypothesis: controlling for market-level factors (population size, temperature, political ideology, and economic prosperity) and individual-level factors (age, education, income, gender, and political ideology), there is a significant positive association between the amount of Climate Matters reporting and some key indicators of science-based understanding (including that climate change is occurring, is primarily human caused, and causes harm). However, there was no evidence for the second hypothesis. These findings suggest that climate reporting by TV weathercasters, as enabled by the Climate Matters program, may be increasing the climate literacy of the American people.

Denotes content that is immediately available upon publication as open access.

© 2020 American Meteorological Society. For information regarding reuse of this content and general copyright information, consult the AMS Copyright Policy (www.ametsoc.org/PUBSReuseLicenses).

Supplemental information related to this paper is available at the Journals Online website: https://doi.org/10.1175/WCAS-D-20-0026.s1.

Corresponding author: Edward W. Maibach, emaibach@gmu.edu

Abstract

Climate Matters is a localized climate change reporting resources program developed to support television (TV) weathercasters across the United States. Developed as a pilot test in one media market in 2010, it launched nationwide in 2013; in the autumn of 2019 more than 797 weathercasters were participating in the program. In this paper we present evidence of the impact of the Climate Matters program on Americans’ science-based understanding of climate change. We analyzed three sets of data in a multilevel model: 20 nationally representative surveys of American adults conducted biannually since 2010 (n = 23 635), data on when and how frequently Climate Matters stories were aired in each U.S. media market, and data describing the demographic, economic, and climatic conditions in each media market. We hypothesized that 1) reporting about climate change by TV weathercasters will increase science-based public understanding of climate change and 2) this effect will be stronger for people who pay more attention to local weather forecasts. Our results partially support the first hypothesis: controlling for market-level factors (population size, temperature, political ideology, and economic prosperity) and individual-level factors (age, education, income, gender, and political ideology), there is a significant positive association between the amount of Climate Matters reporting and some key indicators of science-based understanding (including that climate change is occurring, is primarily human caused, and causes harm). However, there was no evidence for the second hypothesis. These findings suggest that climate reporting by TV weathercasters, as enabled by the Climate Matters program, may be increasing the climate literacy of the American people.

Denotes content that is immediately available upon publication as open access.

© 2020 American Meteorological Society. For information regarding reuse of this content and general copyright information, consult the AMS Copyright Policy (www.ametsoc.org/PUBSReuseLicenses).

Supplemental information related to this paper is available at the Journals Online website: https://doi.org/10.1175/WCAS-D-20-0026.s1.

Corresponding author: Edward W. Maibach, emaibach@gmu.edu
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