11.01.2023 change 11.01.2023

Politicians a 'danger to understanding climate change', say experts

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Climate change experts have warned about the increased influence of ‘misleading political narratives’ and the ‘danger it poses in reinforcing polarisation’ around green issues.

Dr. Paulina Sobiesiak-Penszko and Filip Pazderski from the Institute of Public Affairs conducted a study on the reliability of climate information sources. It shows that 56 percent Poles are interested in the topic of climate change. At the same time, almost half (45 percent) of them blame politicians for spreading disinformation on this topic.

In an interview with PAP, Sobiesiak-Penszko said that 'the extent to which politics controls the thinking of Poles about climate change is disturbing'. According to the researcher, scientific facts 'are pushed to the background' in public perception, and the issue of climate is dominated by the replication of the political message with which the respondent identifies. In her opinion, this phenomenon will have a negative impact on the process of green transformation, i.e. changes that have been discussed for a long time by world leaders, not only concerning the energy sector, but also the protection of the planet.

She said: “We know that society is divided in many respects, but I did not expect Poles to talk about climate change with political narratives created by political parties around the topic of climate change. This is dangerous because it means that the climate has already become part of the polarization of society, and after all, without social approval we will not be able to carry out the green transformation.”

According to the expert, social peace during the green transformation will depend on how politicians lead the public through this process.

She continued: “We are entering a moment when everything that is happening around the climate and climate policy will start to affect our lives. So far we have only talked about certain assumptions and proposed changes, and now it is time to implement solutions. At this stage, the most important thing will be to alleviate anxiety, which is an inseparable part of any transformation, so that we avoid new conflicts and tensions. Unfortunately, our research shows that we are moving in this direction.”

When asked how her fears are related to the information that 45 percent of Poles blame politicians for political disinformation, she said: “It's getting harder to catch politicians denying climate change. But they often question specific paths of solving problems and protecting the planet - that is, everything that makes up climate policy. We do not trust politicians, but they are the ones we most associate with the topic of climate. The words of politicians are remembered.”

The survey also showed that, according to Poles, the media also play a role in spreading disinformation. One in five respondents believes journalists are to blame for spreading false information about the climate.

Sobiesiak-Penszko said: “The media often quote the words of politicians without additional expert commentary and thus contribute to the dissemination of the political message. The time pressure journalists work under, combined with an excess of information, often unintentionally reinforces the political message.”

For 33 percent of Poles, television is a reliable source of climate information. At the same time, 10 percent of respondents believe that there are no reliable sources of information about the climate at all.

Sobiesiak-Penszko said: “It can be said that despite a clear increase in the media focus on climate issues, the sources of information are still scarce and very dispersed. Climate experts are not recognisable because their language will never be as simple and catchy as the language of politicians. On the other hand, we still don't know how to talk about nuances - some issues are really complicated. There are portals that, for example, only specialise in energy issues, but they are addressed to a very small groups of recipients.”

The survey was conducted in April 2022 by IQS on 1,000 participants. The selected sample is representative of the entire population in terms of basic demographic variables: gender, age, education, size of place of residence and voivodeship.

The full text of the report 'Disinformation around climate and climate policy' (in Polish) is available on the website.

PAP - Science in Poland, Urszula Kaczorowska

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