Decorative abstract angle of Annenberg Building architecture with the sun shining in the sky

Communication and Climate Commitments at the Annenberg School for Communication

Any effort to create long-lasting solutions to our climate crisis must recognize the inescapable reality of a complex global media ecosystem that will determine whether new policies and practices get the support they need and the broad dissemination they require for success.

Based at a school for the study of communication, Annenberg’s researchers examine the significant impact that a changing media landscape has on society’s capacity to tackle the most pressing issues of our time, including climate change and the increasingly acute challenges linked to ongoing environmental degradation.

Our school helps various publics understand the data-driven science that explains climate change and that underpins effective social policies and everyday practices aimed at slowing it down.

We also recognize that climate change impacts different groups in uneven and unequal ways, which is why it is also important to stress that our faculty and students think critically about the role of media in the production and reproduction of social inequities and consider the moral/ethical implications of media-related business decisions and governmental regulations.

In the context of concerns about misinformation, disinformation, conspiracy theories, and the distracting noise of a frenetic global media landscape, society must ensure that its approach to climate change makes use of the best empirical evidence and social theories borne of cutting-edge research in fields such as political communication, health communication, science communication, visual communication, data science, and more.  

Indeed, research at Annenberg takes a more holistic approach and comprehensive communication strategy to offer resources to the public and to those institutions that serve the public, providing people the tools they need to understand what is happening—and to coordinate an innovative and cooperative response.

This includes, for example, our Message Effects Lab, which has collaborated with The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia to reduce vaccine hesitance during the COVID pandemic, and the Penn Medical Communication Research Institute (PMCRI), a new collaboration run out of the Perelman School of Medicine, which spent 2021 assessing misinformation in health-based advertising and reducing medical bias among clinicians.

Annenberg is an important institution for research and teaching on the power of media dynamics to affect social and natural environments. Moreover, Annenberg’s scholars play a significant role in translating knowledge produced in the academy—from a variety of different disciplines and analytical perspectives—into social action and policy outcomes that make our world more livable, equitable, socially responsible, and safe.

Most recently, this work was supported by a $1,000,000 grant from the Independence Media Foundation for ongoing collaboration between Annenberg and Rutgers University (though the co-sponsored Media, Inequality and Change Center) to study the impact of public media systems on the health of democracies, to examine the extent to which citizens are differentially served by internet providers, and to understand the value of a decidedly public media to offsetting the potential harms of an outsized and unregulated commercial media apparatus.

Annenberg faculty members have published widely cited climate communication work in outlets that include the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), Cognition, and Climatic Change on ways to overcome endpoint bias in communication of climate trends and on the impact of messaging that cross-pressures climate deniers and novel appeals to religious adherents.

One of our professors, Kathleen Hall Jamieson, is co-chair of the American Academy of Arts and Science’s Climate Communication subcommittee and has authored its 12 principles for communicating climate science statement.

SciCheck, launched in 2015, is a subsite of the Annenberg Public Policy Center’s, the nation’s first factchecking entity devoted solely to debunking distortions in political ads, debates, and campaigns. Debunking misinformation about climate change is among SciCheck’s foci.

In Spring 2022, the Annenberg Public Policy Center and Annenberg School devoted their joint 2021-22 Annenberg Lecture series to a discussion among leading climate scientists on optimal ways to communicate the urgent need for action to address climate change. Moreover, in fall 2022, APPC is committing one colloquium a month to the topic of “communicating climate science.”

Three APPC-funded post-doctoral fellows are currently being recruited to work in Penn’s new Center for Science, Sustainability, and the Media (PCSSM), which is a School of Arts and Sciences center that is in partnership with APPC and is housed in APPC’s building.

APPC has also established a Climate Communication and Action Division and is currently working to secure a $15 million dollar endowment for that work.

At the request of teams at NIH and CDC, APPC has developed and is currently fielding a climate health assessment battery in its Annenberg Survey of Attitudes about Public Health (ASAPH).

Other centers at Annenberg also play a critical role in understanding how we can make the media landscape conducive to focused, accurate, and productive debates about the climate crisis.

Our centers are designed to educate the next generation of global leaders in this area, from the Center for Media at Risk’s articulation of how dangerous it can be for journalists to engage in honest and fair news reporting all around the world (about this and other topics) to ongoing work that the Communication Neuroscience Lab determining how people are motivated to make healthy choices with a positive impact on their lives and their environments.

The Annenberg Center for Collaborative Communication attempts to foster increased partnerships across the two Annenberg Schools (at the University of Southern California and Penn) on these kinds of issues, and our other research  labs—such as the Social Action Lab, Polarization Research Lab (a partnership with Dartmouth and Stanford], Peace & Conflict Neuroscience Lab, Heath Communication and Equity Lab, Addiction Health and Adolescence Lab, the Computational Social Science Lab (a partnership with Wharton and Penn Engineering), SAFELab (a partnership with the School of Social Policy and Practice), and others—produce innovative scientific findings and translate that knowledge into modalities and methods that have the greatest chance of facilitating productive social dialogue and effective public policy for the entire planet. Most of these centers already have research projects related to climate concerns, and we will continue to increase the number of Annenberg centers/labs that do.

Annenberg fully supports the University of Pennsylvania’s stated commitment to reducing green house gas emissions and becoming carbon neutral by 2042. This will require responsible use of energy in our school’s campus facilities and in the careful carrying out of our research, teaching and service mission within and beyond the city of Philadelphia.