By James Painter
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Extra resources for Climate Change in the Media: Reporting Risk and Uncertainty
They describe it as a ‘gateway issue’ controlling whether or not people choose to engage with the subject of climate change. In other words, people who (wrongly) believe that scientists disagree on global warming tend to feel less certain that global warming is occurring, and show less support for climate policy (Ding et al, 2011). Likewise, research done by the Glasgow Media Group found that in their focus groups, ‘the uncertainty of the science left the evidence open to interpretation by a range of experts.
As two researchers from India and Norway express it, ‘the more neutral language of risk assessment or risk management [has] not always been successful in shifting positions away from seeing disasters as unavoidable, uncontrollable, unexpected and unprecedented […] often supported by climate catastrophism’ (Khan and Kelman, 2012). Some psychologists argue that risk language can, in certain circumstances, have the effect of creating fear, despair, and anxiety in the mind of the viewer or reader in a similar fashion to the disaster language (Lertzman, 2012).
As already mentioned, it is becoming much more common for climate science reports to speak in this way, particularly when they are aimed at decision makers. The concept and language of risk now often appear in titles of reports, or near the beginning. 7 In its introduction it lays out the certainties, the near certainties, and the risks. The 2013–14 IPCC reports for the first time will contain a section on ‘risk management and the framing of a response’. In the guidelines to authors, the IPCC is also keen to stress the importance of including discussion of ‘tail risks’, which are low probability, high impact events (Mastrandrea et al, 2012: 1).