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.

COP26, Local Climate Action and TV: What can be done in Liverpool?

Dr Elke Weissmann

Many people concerned about climate change will say that COP26 ended up being a bit of a disappointment.

We do want to do something. The problem is that we do not always know what we need to do, or perhaps how simple it is to do something, not just as individuals, but as communities.

Edge Hill University’s Television Studies Research Group is currently working with Love Wavertree to examine what the community can do to tackle climate change through the medium of television (through a local, community-led channel). The aim is to follow the local community as they undertake climate change projects and to record this for community-led television programmes, made available as online videos.

In so doing, we draw on the experiences of German local television which is community-led, but often struggles to find content. German ‘Offene Kanäle’ (open channels) are run by small teams or even individuals on very limited budgets and with a remit for locally produced content by community groups or individuals.

Fortunately, in Liverpool we can draw on the talent of local students, studying on film, television and journalism degrees, who can support the development of more regular programming in this area. This programming is also inspired by the British history of public service broadcasting which is not only meant to educate, inform and entertain, but also to bring the community together.

On Sunday, 7 November, we screened The People v Climate Change at Wavertree Town Hall. This was then followed by presentations from the Heseltine Institute at the University of Liverpool and a Q&A. Three of Edge Hill’s students, Cara Gaskell, Bobbie Scanlon and Chloe Clover, filmed and edited the event.

We are now making this film available to the larger community, including you, so you can find out about the specific climate change challenges and opportunities in Liverpool and surrounding region.

The People v Climate change can be watched on the iPlayer, while the recording of the post-screening talks and Q&A can be watched here.

Watch and be inspired!

Dr Elke Weissmann is Reader in Television and Film in the Department of Creative Arts at Edge Hill University. Her research is focused on television, transnational relations, and gender and the media.

Photo by Anete Lusina from Pexels