From fear to optimism: survey confirms need for more solutions approach to climate journalism

2023-11-17. What can media take out from the new Edelman special report on Trust and Climate Change? Climate change is becoming more personal and for communicators, optimism and solutions are key to action.

by Lucinda Jordaan | November 17, 2023

The online survey by the Edelman Trust Institute, now in its third year, found that three of four surveyed are worried about climate change, and the majority are pessimistic about solutions. The survey was conducted within 14 countries – with about 1 000 respondents per country – between September and October this year. 

Significantly, it also found a resounding decline in trust across institutions to do what is right when it comes to climate change. Media showed the biggest decline, down 9 points to 44% with Trust in NGOs (58 percent, down 4 points), Government (50 percent, down 7 points), and Business (49 percent, down 5 points).

“The only trusted voices on climate are those of friends, family, peers, and scientists/experts,” reads the 2023 Edelman Trust Barometer Special Report: Trust and Climate Change.

“To build trust, people need to see climate solutions that benefit them and their communities,” notes Edelman CEO, Richard Edelman

“Optimism builds on that foundation of trust, but people also need to see companies keep commitments, to consume news of climate progress, to see climate policies benefit them and their countries, and to see climate-friendly lifestyles as attractive. In doing so, we could reverse the Optimist/Pessimist equation from the present 22/55 to 52/25.”

Top findings

1 Climate crisis is universally recognised as climate change becomes more personal

Ninety-three percent of respondents say they believe that climate change poses a serious and imminent threat to the planet, as most respondents say the weather has gotten more extreme where they live over the past few years, and they worry climate change will make life difficult and unpleasant for them and their family.

2 Climate trust falls across institutions, countries & individuals 

While business is the most trusted institution in general, only 49 percent trust business to do what is right on climate change. Most countries surveyed are internationally distrusted on climate. And now only experts and peers are trusted to tell the truth when it comes to climate change.

3 Few are optimistic that climate challenges can be overcome 

Seventy-seven percent say they are worried about climate change, but 22 percent say that they are also hopeful that we can overcome its challenges. The other 55 percent of those who are worried feel pessimistic. 

4 With optimism comes support for action

Climate optimists are more likely to say treaties, like the Paris Agreement, will help address climate change, they are more likely to have put pressure on family and friends to live more climate-friendly lives, and they are more likely to have contacted government officials urging them to enact climate policies. 

5 Climate optimism increases as trust increases 

When NGOs, business, government, and media are on average distrusted on climate, a lower percentage of respondents say they are climate optimists.

6 Prioritising profits over planet 

Among the 65 percent who say companies are not doing well at living up to their climate promises, the number one reason is because they are too focused on short-term prof

7  Widespread desire for more climate-friendly lifestyles 

Sixty-seven percent of respondents say there is a meaningful gap between how climate-friendly their lifestyle is and how climate-friendly they would like to be. Among those who recognize that gap, 8 in 10 say they see cost as a top barrier to living the greener lifestyle they want. 

8 Top drivers of climate optimism 

The best ways to convert climate pessimists to optimists include having trust in institutions on climate, believing companies will keep their climate commitments, seeing climate progress and news that gives them hope, believing solutions will provide a personal and societal benefit and believing climate-friendly lifestyles are attractive. 

The opportunity in optimism

Significantly, the research finds that “optimism is the key to action, and optimism hinges on trust.”

The report outlines recommendations for increases in climate-friendly behaviour, claiming a possible rise from the current 22% optimists to 52% optimists. 

To build optimism, focus on outcomes

Based on the institute’s research on the drivers of optimism, they predict that people are more likely to be optimistic if they:

  1. Trust institutions on climate.
  2. Believe companies keep their climate commitments.
  3. See climate progress and news that gives me hope.
  4. Believe climate solutions will benefit me and society.
  5. Believe climate-friendly lifestyles are attractive

See Also: From Doom to Do: How Optimism Can Fuel Action on Climate Change

Download the report here

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