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How news farigue affects reporting on climate change

News fatigue and informing about climate change

Climate change is a global focus with scientists and politicians warning about rapid negative developments. News fatigue is a problem for news media informing about the changes. A new survey from Reuters Institute shows selective news avoidance, where people actively try to avoid news often, even if they also continue to follow it at least some of the time, is almost as widespread for news on climate change as it is for news in general, ranging from 10% in Japan to 41% in India.

Beyond reasons that seem tied to politics (e.g. perceptions of bias), several of the most frequently mentioned reasons for selective avoidance of climate change news and information have to do with exhaustion (e.g. ‘worn out’, ‘too much’), limited value (‘nothing new’, ‘nothing I can do’), and anxiety (‘a negative effect on my mood’), the report says.

The authors conclude that if news media have a chance to stand out against a dark backdrop of widespread concern over whether the information people come across (whether online or offline) is false or misleading, especially as many are sceptical of political actors. 

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“Reaching beyond the already well-served parts of the public is an important opportunity to help a wider range of people build a better understanding of where we are with climate change, the implications, and what we can do in response, most importantly in terms of domestic and international policy.”

About half of respondents in the survey, covering eight countries – Brazil, France, Germany, India, Japan, Pakistan, the UK, and the USA – say they have read climate change news or information in the past week, but with about one in seven having seen some in the past two weeks. 

A large minority of less engaged users say they have come across climate change news or information less frequently than that. But only a tiny proportion say they never see any news or information about climate change.

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  • News media are clearly playing an important role for where people find news and information about climate change. The single most important medium is television, identified by almost a third as something they have used. About the same share say they have used various online news sources, including news sites as well as platforms including social media or messaging apps.
  • In most of the countries covered, there is a significantly smaller share of younger people who have engaged with climate change news and information compared with older age groups, This is in line with extensive research documenting much lower levels of news use generally among younger age groups.
  • Asked about what sources, scientists and/or environmental activists are the most prominent, with governments and politicians or political parties not far behind. A smaller number recall hearing from international institutions such as the United Nations, along with energy companies, followed by a number of less prominent types of sources.
  • About half of respondents say they trust the news media as a source of news and information about climate change. People have very different levels of trust in the various sources they see featured in news coverage, ranging from high and broad-based trust in scientists to generally low levels of trust in energy companies and in politicians or political parties. Trust in environmental activists varies significantly from country to country.
  • Trust in different sources varies by country as well as by political orientation, with those on the political right in many countries expressing less trust in both environmental activists and scientists. Despite these differences, in almost every country covered, a clear majority of those on the political right say they trust scientists as sources of climate change news and information.
  • When it comes to misinformation, large majorities of respondents in every country covered are at least somewhat concerned about whether climate news and information they come across (whether online or offline) is false or misleading, and many say they themselves have come across climate change news or information they believe is false or misleading (though it is a minority who say that they see such content all the time or often).
  • Asked about the media they suspect carry misinformation, television and online (including on social media or using messaging apps) are the most frequently mentioned, and among sources of suspected misinformation the most frequently mentioned are politicians, political parties, and governments. Whereas people in some countries rely more on television for news about climate change, people generally are slightly more likely to associate false information with online use, and within that, social media use.
  • Those who consume climate change news more frequently are more likely to agree that they find it empowering in some way, either because it helps them know what to do in response, prompts them to consume more information, or gives them more accurate information. Frequent climate change news users are also less likely to feel that climate news contains conflicted views, leaves them confused, or is not relevant to them.
  • People who consume climate change news or information on a weekly basis are more likely to think they know the basics of climate science, including for example the link between climate change and rising temperatures. However, only around 40% say that they know at least a moderate amount about ‘global policy initiatives to tackle climate change’ and their ‘government’s key policies on climate change’. This 40% figure is roughly the same for both infrequent climate news users and those who consume it on a weekly basis. This highlights that people think they know relatively little about domestic and international climate policy, and that more frequent news users feel no more well informed about climate policy.
  • A large majority of respondents, ranging between 75% in the USA and 89% in India, say that they are either ‘somewhat’, ‘very’, or ‘extremely’ worried about the impact of climate change on people all over the world.
  • Typically, those on the left are more likely to say they are worried about the impacts of climate change. However, it is equally important to note that, regardless of political leaning, more than half of our respondents in all countries said that they are worried about climate impacts.
  • Across all eight countries, people who use climate news on a weekly basis are slightly more likely to say they will take some of the more popular actions in response, like recycling, throwing away less food, and using less energy. However, for the less popular actions, like flying less, switching to renewables for household energy, or eating less meat, there are no real differences by climate change news use.
  • Results at the aggregate level show that the proportion who agree that their government ‘is paying enough attention to climate change’, ‘is acting in line with climate science’, ‘is doing everything it can to protect the planet for future generations’, and ‘is doing enough to help avoid a “climate catastrophe”’ range from 20% to 40% in most countries covered. Across all eight countries, people who use climate news on a weekly basis are even less likely to agree that their governments are doing enough to address climate change.
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