In his recent contribution to the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Climate Science, Dr Sebastian Levi explores the perception of climate change in South Africa and the ways in which climate science is communicated to the South African public.
Levi argues that the nation’s social inequities largely contribute to the lack of knowledge on climate change events. South Africa suffers a large class divide where “more than half of the population are considered poor, almost a third of the population are chronically unemployed, and many work for carbon-intense industries.”
In general, climate change literacy is low in South Africa. Only one in five South Africans believe human activities lead to global warming, and as of 2018, more than half of the population had never heard of climate change. Climate change stories are communicated in newspapers and journals that cater to educated readers in urban areas therefore, those living in rural neighbourhoods who primarily work in the coal and mining sector are largely isolated from information on climate science.
Levi adds that the point of issue lies with the lack of resources available for journalists to investigate climate change stories or to communicate the messages of local scientists. As well, the small number of Black South African environmental journalists contributes to the inaccessibility of climate science where stories are published in solely English-language outlets as local news outlets cannot afford to publish specialized climate reporters. The lack of local reporters has also led to an overreporting of abstract ecological issues rather than events that directly affect South African workers.
Levi’s article cites research from various climate researchers in the region and includes data from studies conducted by the Gallup World Poll and Afrobarometer in 2018.
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