AUSTIN (KXAN) — Movies and television have been shown to help viewers better comprehend a topic, which, in return, can help empower them in decision making. While there has been much research on social, political and economic issues in media and its impact on viewers, there has been little to none on climate change. It’s a major topic, as the United Nation’s latest report keeps pleading for more aggressive and accelerated actions in order to avert a climate catastrophe.
The USC Norman Lear Center’s Media Impact Project conducted a research project analyzing more than 37,000 scripts in entertainment to learn about how often climate change was acknowledged or mentioned. The Media Impact Project is a “hub for collecting, developing and sharing approaches for measuring the impact of media in order to better understand the role that media plays in changing knowledge, attitudes and behavior among individuals and communities.” They worked on this project in conjunction with Good Energy, a nonprofit story consultancy for climate change.
Meteorologist Sean Kelly spoke with Dr. Erica Rosenthal, who’s the director of research for the Media Impact Project. You can read the interview below to learn more:
Sean Kelly, KXAN News: Tell me about your research with climate change topics in entertainment.
Dr. Erica Rosenthal, The Norman Lear Center: We partnered with an organization called Good Energy to study how often climate change topics are mentioned in scripted entertainment. So we analyzed over 37,000 TV and film scripts from between 2016 to 2020. And what we found was that less than 1% of those scripts actually mentioned the specific term climate change. And we also developed a broader List of 36 keywords related to climate change. And even that that much broader list, it was still only 3% of scripts mentioned the climate change keywords. But at the same time, there were over 4000 mentions of extreme weather events during the same time period, but only 10% of those actually drew any connection to climate change.
Kelly: What goals could be set to change that?
Rosenthal: Yeah, there’s a number of groups, such as Good Energy who worked with us on this research. We also have a group in our own organization called Hollywood Health and Society that that works with the entertainment industry. You help content creators, get their stories right on on climate change, they connect them with experts to enable them to tell more accurate, more authentic stories. This new show Extrapolation on Apple TV Plus is really, you know, the first show to explicitly tackle climate change in a major way,
Kelly: And so you all have plans to do some some research on the impacts of that show?
Rosenthal: So we actually launched our research this week. So my team at the Lear Center is collaborating with another research organization called Rare. And Good Energy, our partner in the previous research, to actually study the impact that this show has on audiences. And again, this is going to be the first quantitative study of of a major climate storyline since since the Day After Tomorrow. So we’re looking at the impact that the show has on audiences knowledge, attitudes, their intentions to act and actual steps that they’re taking towards action; both at the individual and at the more collective level. And we’re also looking at how the show affects their climate anxiety, the mental health concern related to climate change their understanding of the public health effects that it can have, and the disproportionate impact that it can have on on communities that are already historically disadvantaged.