Unprecedented rainfall, unpredictable fire seasons, extreme drought. Whether it’s the Black Summer bushfires, devastating floods in Lismore or another mass bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef, climate change is leaving an indelible mark on our country.
But how do you wade through the confusing ideological debate surrounding climate change? Political analyst, social theorist and media scholar Associate Professor David Holmes of Monash University has found a way. Funding from Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation has empowered the founder and director of Monash Climate Change Communication Research Hub (MCCCRH) to help people sort climate fact from fiction.
“We communicate the science, the impacts and the solutions to climate change – all backed by the research resources of the university – through media outlets we’ve partnered with,” explains Dr Holmes. “This includes television networks as well as local news outlets.”
The key is to keep it simple. And local. Rather than offering a national or global perspective, the MCCCRH has found localised climate change information engages people much, much more. In other words, the more local-specific, the more it is trusted. It’s why the Climate Communicators project was created.
“For the Climate Communicators project, we work with television weather presenters to present climate charts that show how a particular climate indice has changed over time,” explains Dr Holmes. “It could be nights getting warmer in a particular location for a particular month over a number of decades.”
There are roughly 75 weather presenters in Australia. A MCCCRH survey discovered 91 per cent of them were comfortable presenting local climate statistics during their nightly weather segments. Just as many believed audiences would be interested in learning about the impacts of climate change. Meanwhile an audience survey revealed 76 per cent of viewers wished to learn the impacts of climate change during weather bulletins.
Well-known meteorologist and 7NEWS weather presenter Jane Bunn, together with ABC weather presenter Paul Higgins were the first to sign up. Soon they were incorporating easy-to-understand climate trends in their nightly address to TV audiences.
Today Climate Communicators boasts 25 weather presenters from across the country. Close to three million viewers per month are exposed to science-backed climate data across the Nine and Seven television networks, as well as the ABC.
According to Dr Holmes: “The weather presenters project would have been difficult to launch without the support of the Foundation’s first grant.”
The success of Climate Communicators comes down to its simple non-persuasive communication. “All we do is show science and the solutions in shortform messaging that’s repeated often from trusted sources,” says Dr Holmes. “We use a methodology that depolarises. So, someone who is dismissive or doubtful of climate change, who’s been watching the same weather presenter for 20 years, is suddenly presented with evidence about climate change – and it’s very transformative.”
Another partnership, this time with Weatherzone, adopts a similar approach.
“Our research shows that extreme weather is a really good time to communicate climate change because people are looking for an explanation for what just happened,” says Dr Holmes. “So, each month we provide a climate explainer that explains the climate factors of, say, a recent flood or bushfire.” The weather app is currently downloaded on five million phones.
Perhaps MCCCRH’s biggest impact has been with Changing Climates, their partnership with Newscorp’s Leader Community News. “Our partnership, which began with Leader enabled us to produce 26 columns a week in 26 mastheads. In 2019 alone we produced nearly 1000 columns, with a reach of 1.5 million people. It’s since grown to many more mastheads in other states.
For Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation CEO Dr Catherine Brown, the MCCCRH’s ability to increase the public’s understanding of climate change makes them vital.
“We want to work hard on educating people about climate change so that it will lead to action and solutions. And what’s been successful in all areas, whether it’s homelessness, affordable housing, food or climate, is when we find a partner who can do good research and provide solid evidence. From that, major policy change can come.”
For Dr Holmes and Monash Climate Change Communication Research Hub, the Foundation’s impressive environment and sustainability portfolio made them an obvious choice.
“The Foundation is always looking for emerging capabilities – new ways of addressing problems. And because we wanted to pilot first in Victoria, Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation was an obvious choice for us. We’re so pleased that they recognised our potential.”