How to Keep Talking about Climate Change with Television?

Elke Weissmann

Many of us probably feel that this is a time of crisis: the cost-of-living, the invasion of Ukraine, and so much more. These crises are real and evident, and also clearly taking place now.

Disasters, catastrophes and crises need to be constructed as events to grab the headlines (see for example Bednarek and Caple, 2017), often with an element of surprise. As the surprise wears off, so does the interest in reporting on it. For stories such as the cost-of-living crisis and the invasion of Ukraine, this is a problem. But now imagine having to report on a crisis that scientist grew increasingly concerned about in the 1950s.

Those of us who follow the headlines know that we have to act now to avoid an even worse ‘climate breakdown’ to use the more recent terminology adopted by researchers. Unfortunately, reporters struggle with keeping the topic in the news due to new and emerging crises that appear more timely than climate change. In addition, ‘Upping the Ante’, that is using more alarmist language such as ‘climate crisis’, ‘climate emergency’ and indeed ‘climate breakdown’ does not seem to help news organisations as they create a perception of sensationalism in the readers and viewers, thus reducing the credibility of the news source (Feldman and Hart, 2021).

Television has therefore attempted to find different means of engaging audiences in the topic of climate change. Fans of David Attenborough documentaries know them to regularly bring up the topic, amongst others by drawing attention to declining habitats. Similarly, Monty Don on Gardeners’ World has emphasised both the effects of climate change (the wetness of winters, for example) and what we can do to work against it (avoid peat compost at all costs, amongst others). Other programmes are yet more didactic: Shop Well for the Planet, a BBC lifestyle programme to coincide with COP26 in 2021, ‘instructed’ families in how they can reduce their carbon footprints, giving audiences lots to emulate.

The question of how to communicate both the urgency of climate action and get more people involved in doing something is also at the heart of an Edge Hill research project collaboration with the University of Liverpool, Love Wavertree and funded by the British Academy. This investigates if local television is effective in communicating local climate action to a greater number of people.

So we are asking the public to help us: What TV programme has helped you to make sense of climate change and inspired you to act?

In order to honour your views and celebrate good practice we are giving this year’s Critical Award in Television to the programme that gets your vote.

To vote for the ‘Programme that engaged audiences with climate change‘, scan this QR code:

Or put 179-128-316 into the Vevox App

Visit the CATs webpage to vote in the other categories: Critical Award in Television

Happy Voting!

Dr Elke Weissmann is a Reader in Film and Television at Edge Hill University. Her research interests focus on television, in particular aspects of transnational and convergent television, and feminism.

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