Australia

The number of climate deniers in Australia is more than double the global average, new study finds

Protesters march with placards during a 'Sack ScoMo!' climate change rally in Sydney, Friday, 10 January, 2020. Source: AAP

News consumers in Australia are more likely to believe climate change is "not at all" serious compared to news consumers in other countries, according to new research.

Australian news consumers are far more likely to believe climate change is “not at all” serious compared to news users in other countries. That’s according to new research that surveyed 2,131 Australians about their news consumption in relation to climate change.

The Digital News Report: Australia 2020 was conducted by the University of Canberra at the end of the severe bushfire season during 17 January and 8 February, 2020.

It also found the level of climate change concern varies considerably depending on age, gender, education, place of residence, political orientation and the type of news consumed.

Young people are much more concerned than older generations, women are more concerned than men, and city-dwellers think it’s more serious than news consumers in regional and rural Australia.

15 per cent don’t pay attention to climate change news

More than half (58 per cent) of respondents say they consider climate change to be a very or extremely serious problem, 21 per cent consider it somewhat serious, 10 per cent consider it to be not very and eight per cent not at all serious.

Out of the 40 countries in the survey, Australia’s eight per cent  of “deniers” is more than double the global average of three per cent. We’re beaten only by the US (12 per cent) and Sweden (nine per cent).

While most Australian news consumers think climate change is an extremely or very serious problem (58 per cent), this is still lower than the global average of 69 per cent. Only ten countries in the survey are less concerned than we are.

Strident critics in commercial media

There’s a strong connection between the brands people use and whether they think climate change is serious.

More than one-third (35 per cent) of people who listen to commercial AM radio (such as 2GB, 2UE, 3AW) or watch Sky News consider climate change to be “not at all” or “not very” serious, followed by Fox News consumers (32 per cent).

This is perhaps not surprising when some of the most strident critics of climate change science can be found on commercial AM radio, Sky and Fox News.

Among online brands, those who have the highest concern about climate change are readers of The Conversation (94 per cent) and The Guardian Australia (93 per cent), which reflects their audiences are more likely left-leaning and younger.

More than half of Australians get their information about climate change from traditional news sources (TV 28 per cent, online 17 per cent, radio five per cent, newspapers four per cent).

However, 15 per cent of Australians say they don’t pay any attention to news about climate change. This lack of interest is double the global average of seven per cent.

Given climate change impacts everyone, this lack of engagement is troubling and reflects the difficulty in Australia to gain political momentum for action.

The polarised nature of the debate

The data show older generations are much less interested in news about climate change than news in general, and younger people are much more interested in news about climate change than other news.

News consumers in regional Australia are also less likely to pay attention to news about climate change. One fifth (21 per cent) of regional news consumers say they aren’t interested in climate change information compared to only 11 per cent of their city counterparts.

Given this survey was conducted during the bushfire season that hit regional and rural Australia hardest, these findings appear surprising at first glance.

But it’s possible the results simply reflect the ageing nature of regional and rural communities and a tendency toward more conservative politics. The report shows 27 per cent of regional and rural news consumers identify as right-wing compared to 23 per cent of city news consumers.

Perceptions of climate change reporting
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And the data clearly reflect the polarised nature of the debate around climate change and the connection between political orientation, news brands and concern about the issue. It found right-wing news consumers are more likely to ignore news about climate change than left-wing, and they’re less likely to think reporting of the issue is accurate.

Regardless of political orientation, only 36 per cent of news consumers think climate change reporting is accurate. This indicates low levels of trust in climate change reporting and is in stark contrast with trust in COVID-19 reporting, which was much higher at 53 per cent.

Perceptions of climate change reporting
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The findings also point to a significant section of the community that simply don’t pay attention to the issue, despite the calamitous bushfires.

This presents a real challenge to news organisations. They must find ways of telling the climate change story to engage the 15 per cent of people who aren’t interested, but are still feeling its effects.

Caroline Fisher is co-author of the Digital News Report: Australia 2020 and is deputy director of the News and Media Research Centre at the University of Canberra. She receives funding from the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas, Social Science Research Council and Google News Initiative.

Sora Park is a lead author of the Digital News Report: Australia 2020 and associate dean of research in the faculty of arts and design at the University of Canberra. She receives funding from the Australian Research Council, Social Science Research Council, Google News Initiative and the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism & Ideas.

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