Media loves a headline, not a footnote. When exposure and expertise are weighed one against the other in an early-morning editorial meeting, it is as unfortunate as it is clear that a celebrity scandal will trump a climate report.

While it would be easy to mistake climate change for a super-seller, you, more often than not, need to browse the newspaper all the way back to the science section to stay in the loop about what is actually happening with the environment.

With all the elements of a crowd-pleaser, climate change news are timely, touch us all and have the elements of threat and danger combined with human resilience, survival and innovation.

What is not to like for editors and journalists that readily jump at any disaster, epidemic or meteorite threat?

THE BLAME GAME

What both the journalists and the scientists largely agree upon, is that climate news fail to engage the general public. The controversy arises over who is to blame.

When a group of 27 climate experts were interviewed for a study carried out in the University of Malaga in early 2014, they didn't hold back on their opinions about the shortcomings of the news media. While admitting that there was room for improvement in the dialogue between the
scientific community and the media sphere, the finger was pointing at the journalists and their lack of knowledge, disliking for uncertainty and tendency to alarm, scandalize and bury hope and positive messages.

Climate scientists have repeatedly criticized news reporting for overemphasizing controversy over consensus, and under their quest for the truth, journalists have shoved aside numbers, facts and estimates and dedicated way more than what would be the fair share of exposure to the shrinking minority of “climate sceptics”.

But how much are the journalists really to blame? With a mounting financial pressure of the media industry, the demands of the 24-hour news cycle and an audience lacking “ecoliteracy”, journalists clearly have their work cut out for them.

What makes it to press, or on top of the website, is decided based on the same few factors, whether dealing with politics, economics, or environment: novelty, controversy, geographical proximity and relevance for the reader. While the criteria makes sense in many cases, it has often worked against the climate change agenda.

THE HUMAN ELEMENT

How the general public responds to news and new information is not always a question of will, but has to do with the human psyche.

Studies have shown that regardless of their cultural context, journalists have a tendency to present climate change using a language and imagery of risk. News outlets are deprived of hope and filled with pictures of natural disaster, dramatic headlines and forecasts of degradation and suffering.

While the idea of a looming catastrophe may appeal to the audience's emotions and make climate rocket up on their priority list momentarily, it is not a sustainable PR strategy for climate. Faced with a countless number of risks and challenges in our daily lives, people have developed what social psychologists have named the finite pool of worry, simply meaning that there are limits to the amount of concerns we are able to deal with at once. Over-burdening that capacity by showering people with doom and gloom, will make the pool flood and lead to emotional numbing.

Presenting climate change in the risk frame might heighten the level of interest in the short term, but retaining the level of engagement is difficult. Constant worrying is simply too consuming: Sea levels may be rising and even if we feel compassionate for the Polynesian islanders, a hungry baby is enough to redirect our worrying capacity to something closer to home.

We are also affected by the single action bias. Our brain is conditioned to deal with problems by turning to what we consider to be the most effective solution, and focus our actions on that. When worried about their health, people may quit smoking or start taking vitamin supplements. Only very few assess and adjust their entire lifestyle. Climate change cannot be stopped just by recycling or riding the bike. A massive set of changes and actions are required at different levels to reach the necessary goals. The message that needs to come across: It is not bigger than us and it is worth your attention.

WHAT SHOULD WE DO THEN?

If turning around climate change PR was an easy task, it would have been done long ago. Much needs to be done, clearly, but with the limitations of single action bias in mind, starting with one improvement for everyone in the triangle of scientists, journalists and the general audience could make a major difference.

Climate scientists; It is time to be patient, visible, loud and clear. Instead of hiding behind the complexity and uncertainty of the phenomenon and blaming journalists for simplifications, join forces! Coming up with metaphors, breaking big issues into small facts, offering expertise to help a journalist, reminding people of the little milestones that are being reached and simply becoming a human face to a global issue will make climate science more accessible to the masses.

Journalists; deepen your understanding, use the resources available, be careful about numbers and conscious about controversy. Adjust the news to meet different audiences. Don't scare, but encourage and engage.

The biggest responsibility goes to all the rest. Let's learn to read climate news the same way we read the weather forecast - respecting the science behind it. Even when it is not possible to pinpoint every detail; drop of rain or speed of the wind with absolute certainty, the information we receive is crucial for preparing ourselves and planning the future. Rain means that you should bring the umbrella, and hurricane warning that it is time to evacuate. Climate change means that it is time to act.

There is something fundamentally backwards about the relationship between the environment and the public sphere. Concerns and actions have long ago started to grow up from the grass root level to local, national and global, so how come the only way to make it to page three is still to march, demonstrate or cause havoc? But like the hundreds of thousand of people marching in New York and across the globe on 9.21. at the Climate March reminded us, until the public sphere will catch up with the development; raise your voices, mobilize and demand a change.