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Factual climate change reporting can influence Americans positively, but not for long

Gen Nashimoto, of Luminalt, installs solar panels in Hayward, Calif., on Wednesday, April 29, 2020.
Ben Margot
/
AP
Gen Nashimoto, of Luminalt, installs solar panels in Hayward, Calif., on Wednesday, April 29, 2020.

Media coverage of climate change can influence Americans to adopt more accurate beliefs about the environment, but the information doesn't stay with them for long, according to a new report.

After reading accurate articles about climate change, Americans may see it more as a problem that impacts them and lean toward supporting the government's climate change policies.

"It is not the case that the American public does not respond to scientifically informed reporting when they are exposed to it," said Thomas Wood, one of the study's authors and an associate professor of political science at The Ohio State University.

But those changes are quickly reversed when participants are exposed to articles that doubted climate change.

Approximately 2,898 Americans participated in a four-part study, conducted by Wood, along with professors Brendan Nyhan of Dartmouth College and Ethan Porter of George Washington University.

For the first part, the participants were given an accurate science article about climate change. The group was then asked if they believe climate change is real — it is — and if the government should take action on it.

"Not only did science reporting change people's factual understanding, it also moved their political preferences," Wood said. "It made them think that climate change was a pressing government concern that government should do more about."

In the second and third parts of the studies, participants were given "either another scientific article, an opinion article that was skeptical of climate science, an article that discussed the partisan debate over climate change, or an article on an unrelated subject," OSU said on its website.

When participants read articles that were skeptical of climate change, their attitudes shifted toward skepticism.

"What we found suggests that people need to hear the same accurate messages about climate change again and again. If they only hear it once, it recedes very quickly," Wood said. And that creates a new challenge, he said: "The news media isn't designed to act that way."

Climate change has impacted the world's water, air and land masses. The amount of Arctic Sea ice has decreased 13% every decade since 1971, the sea level has risen 4 inches since 1993 and ocean temperatures are at the highest they've been in 20 years — which can cause coral bleaching, negative changes to the ocean's biochemistry and more intense hurricanes, according to NASA.

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