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Do people learn about climate change?

by Fenja De Silva-Schmidt

How to mobilize citizens, politicians and companies for climate action? Often, knowledge about climate change – or more precisely, a lack of knowledge – is seen as a crucial factor. Basic facts on climate change and climate politics are indeed unknown to a large share of the population. However, ‘educating the public’ is not as easy as one might think – and may even be not that crucial for climate protection. Here’s what I’ve learnt from studying the topic for almost a decade.

When I started my master’s thesis in 2014, I had a traditional model of science communication in my mind: information about scientific and political topics is spread, e.g. by the media, so that the people can learn from it and fill in their “knowledge deficit” (see e.g. Tayeebwa et al 2022). Then, the new knowledge leads them to rethink their attitudes and change their behaviour. Since then, I’ve learnt not only that this model is outdated, but also that human learning and behaviour is much more complex.

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Public opinion at a tipping point – Germany’s path to engaging with climate protection

As a follow-up on our Nature Climate Change study (Brüggemann et al. 2017) called “The appeasement effect of a United Nations climate summit on the German public”, we have now published a working paper tracing changes in public attitudes and behavioral intentions over a longer period of time.

The paper compares data from our 2015, 2018 and 2019 Down to Earth surveys while also linking changes in public opinion to the media coverage on climate change.

Comparing media attention, climate-friendly behaviour, and behavioural intentions

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Down to Earth 2019: Ergebnisse aus der Deutschland-Befragung zum Klimagipfel in Madrid

von Fenja De Silva-Schmidt

Wie schon 2015 und 2018 haben wir auch in diesem Jahr während der Klimakonferenz eine deutschlandweite Online-Befragung durchgeführt. Die Befragung gehört zum Forschungsprojekt Down2Earth, geleitet von Michael Brüggemann an der Universität Hamburg, in dem wir Einstellungen, Mediennutzung, Wissen und Handeln der Menschen zu den Themen Klimawandel und Klimapolitik untersuchen.

Einstellungen zu Klimawandel und Klimapolitik

Im Vergleich zu den vorigen Befragungen zeigt sich nochmals ein signifikanter Anstieg in der Problemwahrnehmung: Inzwischen nennen 38,5 Prozent der Deutschen den Klimawandel als eines der zwei wichtigsten Probleme, denen Deutschland derzeit gegenübersteht (2018: 29,5%, 2015: 14,6%).

Problemwahrnehmung DtE 2019

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Down to Earth – Publications

Mahl, Daniela, Brüggemann, Michael, Guenther, Lars, & De Silva-Schmidt, Fenja (2020). Public opinion at a tipping point: Germany’s path to engaging with climate change. Down to Earth Working Paper, March 2020. DOI: 10.25592/uhhfdm.851

De Silva-Schmidt, Fenja & Brüggemann, Michael (2019). Klimapolitik in den Medien – Das Publikum erwartet mehr. Befunde einer Befragung zu den UN-Klimagipfeln 2015 und 2018. Media Perspektiven 3/2019, 107-113. Available online

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ICA conference participation and video interview

At the International Communication Associations’ annual conference, which took place in San Diego/USA this year, researchers from our team presented first results from the Down to Earth project (“Climate Engagement in a Digital Age: Exploring the Drivers of Participation in Climate Discourse Online in the Context of COP21”) as well as research on how the COP21 was reported on Twitter (“Opportunity Makes Opinion Leaders: Analyzing the Role of First-Hand Information for Opinion Leadership in Social Media Networks”).

Besides, Michael Brüggemann was invited to a spontaneous interview with the online video literary magazine GuerillaReads, who “invited ICA presenters to share their work guerrilla-style. ”

More information and all other interviews can be found on their site.

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Erste Ergebnisse aus der Tagebuchstudie präsentiert

tagebuch-pixabay-kein-nachweis-notigvon Fenja De Silva-Schmidt

Auf der European Communication Conference in Prag haben wir erste Ergebnisse aus der Tagebuchstudie des Projekts “Down to Earth” präsentiert. Für den Vortrag wurden die Angaben zu den Gesprächen der 41 Teilnehmer über den Klimawandel analysiert, die sie im Zeitraum der Klimakonferenz in Paris 2015 geführt hatten.

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Down to Earth results featured in “Communication Director”

Artikel_Communication DirectorResults from our Down to Earth study have been featured in an article about the communication of international climate conferences. Imke Hoppe was interviewed as a spokesperson of our team by editor Jan Wisniewski from the magazine “Communication Director” and talked about the public’s perception of the COP21.

Unfortunately, the article is not available for free, but the first two pages can be read in the online preview of the issue (Communication Director 3/2016, pp. 50-54).

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First Working Paper: Before the COP 21

Screenshot_WP DtEHow do German citizens perceive climate change? What do they know about climate politics? And how do they evaluate national and international efforts against climate change?

Within the framework of our “Down to Earth” study, we aimed to answer these and further questions with an online survey with more than 2000 persons, conducted in Germany two weeks before this year’s climate conference in Paris.

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