DHC Weekly 9/30- Yale Program on Climate Change Communication

Hello again! The past few weeks have been very busy here at the DHC as we head into the semester. More posts to come this week on past events and what to look forward to this semester, but to start off the week, let’s talk about maps again.

The Yale Program on Climate Change Communication released a map in late September demonstrating the spatial layout of opinions surrounding climate change. YPCCC has been integral in discussing a forgotten aspect of climate change, how do we talk about it? While many other programs on climate change focus on the phenomenon itself, the way we talk about the issue matters. Unlike many other policy issues, climate change is hard to reduce to a single, definitive, soundbite. In fact, the Design Center’s post-bacc, Yisel Garcia, is focusing on climate change communications for her independent project this year!

The YPCCC gets most of its information through surveys and questionnaires, and while it does do work on the effectiveness of certain climate change frameworks, the maps I’m going over today are a from a survey of public opinion. For example, this is the spatial distribution of people who believe that global warming is happening. The information on this map is based on a national survey and demographic information. For more information on how these estimates were made, check out the YPCCC’s methodology page.

This map shows the estimated percentage of each county in the United States or people who believe that global warming is happening. On the individual county level, the estimated percentages seem to be between 45%-85%.

This map, though incredibly helpful, doesn’t show the whole picture. That’s where the interactive component comes in. Interested parties can toggle through different options to show opinions at the county, city, district, state, and national levels. In addition to this, you can also see how each county differs from the national average.

If we look at this map, we can see that the coastal areas as well as select parts of the Southwest have estimated percentages higher than the national average.

We can get a great deal of information from this map. Many areas in green are likely to be affected by climate change with hurricanes, droughts, or the rise in sea levels. In addition to this, many green areas are in high population areas such as California or Northeastern cities. This exercise is not to explain, definitively, why these distributions show up the way they do, but rather to show the importance of showing data in multiple different ways to get the full picture.

Now let’s explore another part of the survey! Below is a map showing the distribution of people who agree with the statement “Climate change will affect me personally.”

At first, the difference looks stark. However, you can see that the blue doesn’t necessarily reflect that no one believes that climate change will affect them personally, it simply reflects that a smaller percentage of people do. This brings me to another great aspect of this interactive map. You can select the percentages you want to show up by clicking on the bar next to the map.

While the estimated national percentage of people who believe that climate change will affect them personally is only 42%, there are only two counties in the country, Cullman County, Alabama and Bland County, Virginia, in which an estimated 30% or less of the population believes this.

Below the 30% mark, very few counties are highlighted on the map. Only two, to be precise. It is also worth noting that in no county in the United States, according to YPCCC’s estimates, does less than 25% of the population believe that climate change will affect them personally.

Finally, I want to highlight the data regarding the media and climate change. Below are a series of maps depicting conversations and media coverage of climate change.

The reason I chose to highlight this data is partially personal. As a recent graduate of a liberal college in a liberal city, I can easily say that I hear about climate change via media daily (if not more) and I talk about it probably just as much. The idea that so many people could go a week without hearing about it from the media was really shocking to me. This made me realize something I already knew but tended to ignore, our social media shows us what it thinks is important to us. On the flip side, if Facebook or Twitter’s algorithms don’t think you would care to hear about climate change, news about it won’t show up.

This may seem obvious and, in a way, it is. Why would you read about something you’re not interested in? The implications, however, aren’t great. How are we supposed to be informed about the news if we are only shown things that algorithms assume we’ll agree with? What this data demonstrates is that we need to find a better way to stay informed. The fact that a majority of Americans don’t hear about climate change weekly is, perhaps, not the most pressing issue in our political landscape. The YPCCC map, does, however, show us a problem:

There’s an information gap.

Information regarding climate change isn’t reaching everyone uniformly and this isn’t something that can be easily fixed. The problem is indicative of a much larger problem regarding media coverage. The YPCCC interactive map shows the distribution of opinions on climate change. It shows that the U.S. is far from united on the matter. The data also suggest that media coverage isn’t fixing the issue. While the map doesn’t give us answers as to how to address the information gap, it does do a wonderful job of showing the landscape of opinions in the United States. I’m really excited about the work the YPCCC is doing to characterize the information gap and to find solutions!

If you’re interested in learning more about the YPCCC, check out their website! The data used to create the map is downloadable and may be useful for your academic research. If you’d like to hear more from me on how social media divides us, join me at the DHC next Monday 1:30-2:30 PM for our first lunchtime book series where I’ll be talking about Trick Mirror by Jia Tolentino.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *