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Climate Crisis? Never Heard of Her!

By Shelby Snetsinger

I have worked at Environment and Climate Canada (ECCC) as a media monitor, which means I analyze social media all day and keep up with public news. Specifically, I provide the department with a daily summary from X (formally Twitter) of what people are discussing related to the environment, climate change, ECCC, etc. This experience has been exciting and made me question social media and education's role in the fight against climate change. Assuming you are familiar with X, in which case, it may be no surprise that the platform's users are overwhelmingly negative (I will continue to refer to X as Twitter because I don't like the new name). Every day, the posts that get the most engagement are usually negative in sentiment, not just towards the politicians but also about any information regarding the climate crisis. They typically do not believe in climate change and commonly do not support any initiatives to mitigate the situation, for example, phasing out fossil fuels. This would sometimes get to me; I would read a tweet that was so absurd it would make me so frustrated and in shock that people could spread this false information and have these opinions. This leads me to conclude that Twitter is just a microcosm for negativity, hate speech, and mis/disinformation, not a reflection of the more significant population. I often remind myself of the good in our world so I don't get discouraged. But these tweets made me question what I know about the climate and environment. When you see thousands of people believing one thing, you begin to doubt your knowledge, which is not necessarily bad. According to the National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE), media literacy is the ability to: 


"comprehend the messages we receive and effectively utilize these tools to design and distribute our messages. Being literate in a media age requires critical thinking skills that empower us as we make decisions, whether in the classroom, the living room, the workplace, the boardroom, or the voting booth. " (Lonergan, 2022)

 

These posts and people made me question what I knew, but I didn't immediately change my views because of that; I would research to confirm what was true, sometimes just a quick 5-minute session to get more facts. This brought me to question the level of media literacy that most people have and how it plays into the climate crisis. I don't expect people to be experts because I am far from one, but to see so many people discredit and misunderstand fundamental scientific truths is concerning. This, in my opinion, is due to a significant need for more media literacy skills.  

  

A research article by Gary J. Pickering called Head in the (Oil) Sand? Climate Change Scepticism in Canada explores the current relationship between Canadians and the sentiment around Climate change. They highlight in the study that Canada is known for its vast natural resources and beauty, and there is the general belief we must be on top of climate change, but it's not the truth. Canada was recently placed 62nd on the climate change performance index out of 67 countries; this could be better. (CCPI, 2023) Pickering's study aimed to see if climate denial is one of the barriers to why we're failing in action. They found polarization among Canadians based on political beliefs and geographic location, indicating that many adults are not on board with climate change mitigation efforts. (Pickering, 2015) Based on my experience in social media analysis, this group of people is prominent online. Often, they can agree that the climate is changing on some level and understand the human impacts but aren't on board with the drastic changes required to be made often on a political/economic level. This reluctance to change climate mitigation policies or plans is often due to how they are communicated and the need for more investigation from the reader. It's very easy online to see a headline twisted by the media, then read the article or the policy itself and realize that it is simply clickbait. Pickering's study also noted that 38% of participants found that the press is too alarmist regarding Climate Change. Another notable factor in my work is that people are scared. Often, though, fear comes from just a lack of knowledge. When you see a scary headline like "The world will be underwater by 2045 due to climate change," it's understandable that it would make people uncomfortable and reluctant to act. Still, using media literacy skills, you might find this information is not credible or is an exaggeration. Having the tools to be critical of the media would diffuse the tension. 

 

The relationship between media and climate change is complex. I cannot explore the topic thoroughly in one blog post, and in general, it's a topic that is understudied but could be a major game changer in the fight against climate change. My hope for what you take away from this blog post is to be more critical of the media you read online, especially when it comes to the environment and climate change. To not get discouraged by scary doomsday headlines or conspiracy theorists on Twitter. When you get the chance, read and learn everything you can about the climate crisis so you're not the one spreading misinformation the next time it comes up in conversation.  



References

Lonergan MK. (2022, October 28) WHAT Is Media Literacy and HOW Can Simple Shifts Center It. PBS. https://www.pbs.org/education/blog/what-is-media-literacy-and-how-can-simple-shifts-center-it  


Pickering GJ. (2015, September 1) Head in the (Oil) Sand? Climate Change Scepticism in Canada. J Environ Soc Sci. https://www.opensciencepublications.com/fulltextarticles/ESS-2454-5953-2-116.html#Abstract  

 

CCPI. (2023, December 8). Canada – climate performance ranking 2024: Climate change performance index. Climate Change Performance Index | The Climate Change Performance Index (CCPI) is a scoring system designed to enhance transparency in international climate politics. https://ccpi.org/country/can/#:~:text=Canada%20falls%20four%20ranks%20and,Climate%20Policy%20is%20rated%20low


  

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