Research funded by the UKERC indicates that news coverage of renewables and related energy issues is creating uncertainty and confusion.

The research was put together by social scientists and experts from the Glasgow University Media Group and Chatham House.

It reveals that four out of five people have never heard of the term ‘energy security’ and the UKERC claims this has led to cynicism and disengagement on energy policy.

However, 94% believed that action should be taken to secure the future energy supply, even though most were not sure what options might be available.

The researchers used all-day focus groups, and exposed people to authentic TV and radio broadcasts produced by working news journalists. These examined three imagined future scenarios – a mass flood in Bangladesh, the UK’s worst-ever flood disaster, and a UK gas shortage resulting in a power loss for 20 million people across the UK.

Follow up interviews were held six months after the initial focus groups, to see whether individuals’ participation had resulted in any long-term changes in attitudes and behaviour.

Scientists, academics and researchers were named as the group most trusted as a source of reliable information. However, people viewed climate change science as too confusing and inconsistent for them to understand.

According to the UKERC, there was a feeling that the issue had dropped off the media agenda. People reported feeling disengaged and powerless, and a key reason for this was their distrust of politicians, who were perceived as sending out inaccurate information.

Research associate at the Glasgow University Media Group and one of the report’s authors Catherine Happer said:

“The confusion and scepticism we uncovered in relation to the legitimacy of the scientific arguments and the inconsistency of climate change predictions are a direct consequence of the number of voices and opinions engaging in the media debate. Climate change, largely as a result of a dip in media coverage, is no longer seen as the priority it once was.

“However, when it came to energy, participants were more open to new information and the discussions seemed to have more of an impact on them. This appeared to be related to the fact that it was a new issue for them, still crystallising in their minds, and that their attitudes were still at the point of being formed.

“This represents a real opportunity for the scientific and research community to show leadership and clarity energy security, so as to avoid a repeat of what happened in relation to climate change.”

Conor McGlone

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