A scientist’s opinion: interview with Dr Claudio Morana on the public perception of climate change in relation to news consumption

Dr Claudio Morana is Professor of Economics at the University of Milano-Bicocca and Director of the university’s Center for European Studies (CefES).

How important are climate activism and its coverage in digital media for environmental awareness?

Claudio Morana profileClaudio Morana: When politicisation of climate change is behind inaction, climate activism becomes an important way forward for change. Media coverage is fundamental to allow people to access information on the motivations behind activism, i.e. information on the climate crisis, and on getting involved and participating in civil society.

In your paper ‘Climate Change Awareness: Empirical Evidence for the European Union’ you mention the damage caused by denial campaigns such as Donald Trump’s. How serious is the damage and how could it be reversed?

Claudio Morana: I believe the damage caused by Trump’s politicisation of climate change was significant. For a few years, the US even ceased to exercise an important leading role in the fight against the climate crisis. Fortunately, it was only temporary and forcefully countered, at a worldwide level, by climate activism.

What are the most important factors related to environmental concerns, and how does your survey evaluate access to digital media and time spent online between them?

Claudio Morana: In our study, we have investigated the contribution of many potential climate change awareness/concern drivers. We have found a most important role for per capita income, consistent with the public-good nature of environmental quality and the so-called environmental Kuznets curve. Intuitively, once a threshold income level is crossed, economic development becomes sustainable, i.e. higher income levels are associated with lower emissions and, in our framework, also with deeper climate change concerns. Other important drivers are a country’s levels of social trust, greenhouse gas emissions, education, the physical distress associated with hot weather, the share of young people in the total population, the relative power position of right-wing parties in government, media coverage, and economic losses caused by extreme weather episodes. Finally, the politicisation of climate change and climate activism are also important determinants.

What are the differences in climate change awareness between Member States, and how can they be explained?

Claudio Morana: The abovementioned control variables make it possible to understand climate change concern heterogeneity in the EU. The higher the per capita income, social trust, level of secondary education, perceived physical distress, monetary damage from extreme weather episodes, the share of the young population and media coverage, the higher the climate concern. On the other hand, climate concern is negatively correlated with greenhouse gas emissions and the relative power position of right-wing parties.

Are there any data about the role of social media and their positive or negative impact on climate change awareness?

Claudio Morana: In our study, we do detect a positive role for media coverage in fostering climate change awareness, even when controlling many other potential determinants.

Do you believe that fake news about climate change significantly influences people in Europe?

Claudio Morana: Fake news is an important source for manipulating civil society’s attitudes. Academics and scientists, through their work, have an essential function in informing people about the scientific evidence about climate change.

Is there any direct correlation between the public perception of climate change and digital news consumption?

Claudio Morana: We have not investigated this specifically, but I might expect a positive correlation between the use of digital information sources and people’s attitudes. The outcome depends on whether digital media are contributing to citizens’ information or disinformation.

How important is the trust that people have in the media for their environmental awareness?

Claudio Morana: I believe it is crucial, and digital media sources should invest in building up their scientific/information reputation.

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