Health and Science   Social Change  

When It Comes to Communicating Sea-Level Rise, Hope Wins

As we are weathering the hottest summer in human history, there’s little question that climate change is upon us. And effective science communication is more important than ever, particularly for members of Gen Z, who will soon become the caretakers of the planet and the problem-solvers in a world where both temperatures and sea level are spiking.

Scholars who study ecocriticism and environmental communication are realizing how important it is to get the messaging about the climate crisis right.

University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications Assistant Professor of Advertising Juliana Fernandes joined colleagues from the University of Miami to examine how young adults reacted to popular climate-themed YouTube videos. Video comprises more than 80 percent of the content shared on social sites and is the medium of choice for Zillennials, the generation most anxious about climate change. Audiences and content-sharers prefer short videos, and those used in the study were no more than four minutes long.

All of the study participants were students from the University of Miami and were aged 18 through 27 from a mix of political persuasions. The researchers used four criteria to categorize the video content: 1) direct, with a narrator speaking to the audience, 2) dialogical, encouraging dialogue between a narrator and the audience, 3) hopeful and 4) fearful.

The researchers discovered that the hopeful videos were overall the most compelling and the ones that the participants are most likely to share with family and friends through their social channels. Fearful videos also were effective at engaging audience emotion and interest. In contrast, the direct and dialogical videos were deemed the most uninteresting, with the dialogical videos being potentially problematic with their use of humor and sarcasm that could be misinterpreted.

Despite the prevalence of amateur videos across the internet, the study showed production value matters. Videos with good soundtracks, storytelling elements, tight editing and credible sources ranked high and cultivate trust.

According to the researchers, “Findings from this study suggest that engaging young adult Americans’ attention is especially challenging and that young adults are highly sensitive to the emotional register and related stylistic elements of online environmental videos.” They recommend that filmmakers and science communicators create work that offer a call-to-action for their young adult audiences as they are sophisticated and concerned consumers of video content.

The original article, “Young Adults’ Reactions and Engagement with Short-form Videos on Sea Level Rise,” was published online in Environmental Communication on Sept.3, 2021.

Authors: Meryl Shriver-Rice, Juliana Fernandes, Lisa N. Johns, Cameron Riopelle and Hunter Vaughan

This summary was written by Gigi Marino.

Posted: August 4, 2023
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