Researchers Point to Modest Successes from ‘Climate Matters’ TV Campaign

An innovative climate change education effort by a Columbia, S.C., meteorologist and his TV station is viewed as generally successful, but its impacts are not to be ‘overstated.’


It’s a pretty familiar line at this point: “Everyone talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.”

It’s generally attributed to Mark Twain, though researchers sat it may instead be Twain friend and one-time Hartford Courant Editor Charles Dudley Warner who first penned the line.

But we digress.

A new report from a group of communications scholars and practitioners says a recent educational initiative involving a Columbia, S.C., TV station and its chief meteorologist proved to be a qualified, but somewhat limited, “successful informal climate change education effort.”

The report in the recently released January 2014 issue of the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, BAMS, describes the “Climate Matters” project as intermittently providing, airing, and reposting to the WLTX-TV website “brief educational segments using current weather events to educate viewers about the local relevance of climate change.”

Along with WLTX meteorologist Jim Gandy, the authors and the lead project partners consisted of individuals associated with George Mason University’s Center for Climate Change Communication, headed by Edward Maibach, or with Climate Central, of Princeton, N.J. Working collaboratively with Gandy, the group produced and aired 12 original educational segments during the first year of the project, consisting of a script and supporting graphics. The self-contained segments typically ran about 90 seconds. Seven of those segments addressed extreme weather or climate events, and the remaining five were designed to be “evergreen” and suitable for airing at any time.

The researchers explained that they launched the “Climate Matters” project to test two hypotheses:

  • that station viewers “will demonstrate greater learning gains than will viewers of other stations”; and that
  • regardless of initial station preference, viewers with more exposure to “Climate Matters” will demonstrate greater learning gains than viewers with less exposure.

Detailing their research methodology and other details and explaining how they evaluated the success of the project, the nine BAMS authors concluded that the project “showed supportive evidence of educational effectiveness, although the results did not fully support our two hypotheses.” They recommended that their findings “be read with care” and that “the impact of the tested intervention strategy should not be overstated.”

In discussing the results of the project, principal author Xiaoquan Zhao of George Mason, his George Mason colleagues, and Gandy and Climate Central climatologist Heidi Cullen wrote that WLTX viewers at the end of the project “tended to hold beliefs that were more consistent with climate science” than did non-viewers. In addition, viewers saying they could recall seeing a “Climate Matters” segment were “more likely to report science-based beliefs and concern over global warming.”

But the researchers were qualified in their claim that the project overall was “a successful informal climate change education effort.” Their report details their reasons and hesitations, including measurement challenges and, in some cases, only marginal changes in attitude and understanding. They concluded by pointing to “some evidence” to demonstrate the effectiveness of the effort in improving public understanding of climate change, and they suggested additional research and development of such an approach “appears to be warranted.”

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