J5.1 Trends in public opinion on climate change, as reflected in contributions to Australian newspapers

Wednesday, 26 January 2011: 1:45 PM
609 (Washington State Convention Center)
David J. Karoly, Univ. of Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia; and B. Parr

Newspapers play a key role in communicating information on climate change, as well as influencing public opinion. Considerable analysis has been undertaken of newspaper reporting of climate change in North America and Europe over the last few years, but here we take a different perspective. Newspapers also reflect public opinions and understanding of climate change through the Letters and Opinion pieces that they publish. It has been suggested that public acceptance of the science of climate change declined in 2009, possibly due to media coverage of errors in the IPCC Fourth Assessment and of `Climategate'. We investigate trends over time in public opinions on climate change in Australia through a content analysis of Letters and contributed OpEds published in Australian newspapers. Differences in the opinions reflected in Letters and OpEds in different newspapers are also examined.

The analysis considered all the Letters to the Editor and contributed OpEds on the topic of climate change published in five major Australia newspapers over four years 2006-2009, from before the release of the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report (AR4) in 2007 to after the Copenhagen Climate Conference in 2009. The levels of agreement of each of the items with five key conclusions from the IPCC AR4 were evaluated, where possible.

The results show that a broad spectrum of opinions were expressed in items published in each of the newspapers, but those in broadsheet newspapers generally agreed more with the IPCC conclusions on climate change than those in tabloids or The Australian, the only paper with major national distribution. There was decreasing agreement or increasing disagreement with IPCC conclusions on observed warming and its causes in all newspapers. However, there were similar levels of agreement with IPCC conclusions on impacts and future costs in all newspapers, except for The Australian in 2009. While it is likely that Letters to the Editor published in newspapers reflect polarised opinions and may be influenced by the selection policies of Editors, these trends are similar to those reported from surveys of public opinions on climate change in Australia.

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