Center for Climate Change Communication Influences Policy, Public on Global Warming

By Tara Laskowski

Ed Maibach

Ed Maibach

Now in its sixth year, the Center for Climate Change Communication (4C) at Mason has been steadfastly examining public perception of climate change issues and identifying effective means of engaging the public and other stakeholders on the issues.

The evidence shows that the center’s work has made an impact on the media and government policy.

Working closely with the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication in 2012, 4C, led by Mason professor Ed Maibach, released nearly a dozen important reports in the Six Americas series and Climate Change in the American Mind series. This research has been cited by national news outlets such as the New York Times, Washington Post, USA Today, Mother Jones, NBC, and the Weather Channel, and researchers from the two university centers have been called upon to speak at numerous conferences, workshops, and panels about their work.

John M. Broder of the New York Times points to the research as one of his most trusted sources for information on climate change. “Some of the best work on these questions comes from Yale University and George Mason University, which have jointly run a project on climate change communication for the past several years,” he said on his blog, Green. “Their work is worth studying in some depth.”

“The center’s core finding is that public opinion on climate change is really not a matter of who ‘believes’ and who doesn’t, but rather about the fact that there are a half a dozen distinct viewpoints on this very important subject,” says Jack Censer, dean of Mason’s College of Humanities and Social Sciences. “After one understands these clusters, it becomes possible to discuss in a meaningful way the findings and implications for outreach and policy.”

The center’s effect on government policy was demonstrated recently when Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and Rep. Henry Waxman announced the formation of a bicameral task force on climate change and mentioned 4C’s work as a catalyst in the effort.

“There is a scientific consensus that climate change is happening, that it is caused primarily by human activities, and that its impacts are already being felt,” they said in a joint statement. “Premier national and international scientific, governmental, and academic organizations are sounding the alarm for an effective policy response. Moreover, a recent poll conducted by Yale University and George Mason University found that a large majority (77 percent) of Americans say climate change should be a priority for the president and Congress.”

The senator and congressman went on to say that “The Bicameral Task Force on Climate Change will be a resource for members of Congress to generate and discuss ideas, share those proposals, and coordinate efforts with House and Senate leaders on climate change to develop effective policies and help to focus public attention on this urgent challenge.”

“We are delighted to see our research cited as part of the justification for the Bicameral Task Force on Climate Change,” says Maibach. “The results of our Climate Change in the American Minds surveys have consistently suggested that the actions of elected officials are lagging behind the wishes of the American people. Over the past year, there has been quite a lot of interest in these findings, especially regarding the depth of support for climate action among political Independents who are so crucial to both Democrats and Republicans.”

In addition to the work with Yale, 4C has received funding from the National Science Foundation to look at how meteorologists feel about climate change and how they can educate the public on the issue. The center also works with public health officials on how to communicate to the public the health risks and effects that global warming will have on individuals.

This article originally appeared on the university’s News site.

To read more stories about Mason, check out the university’s News site.

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