Media Usage And Climate Change – A Study of Students In Agartala, Tripura

Deepak Upadhyaya*

Introduction

India is among the most vulnerable countries in the world predicted to be most affected by climate change and biodiversity loss. India, as a developing country, is ill equipped to counter the effects of climate change. Nearly 700 million of her one billion plus population living in rural areas directly depend on climate-sensitive sectors and natural resources for their subsistence and livelihoods. Further, the adaptive capacity of dry land farmers, forest dwellers, fisher-folk and nomadic shepherds is very low.

In the event of drastic global warming and melting of ice, India is sure to suffer a lot. The Great Himalayas to the north, where the world’s third largest ice mass is deposited, will cause severe flood problem in the low lying areas and river basins (IPCC, 2005). Rising temperatures may cause the snow to melt earlier and faster in the spring, shifting the timing and distribution of run-off of the big rivers like Brahmaputra, Ganga etc (IPCC, 1995).

On the other hand, India has a 7500 km long densely populated coast line, which is equally vulnerable to coastal floods, hurricanes, cyclones, and tsunami as a result of sea-level rise due to melting of ice in the Himalayan region. A recent Asian Development Bank study (Jayshree Roy, 2006) reports that a one-meter rise in the sea level in India would approximately have seven million people displaced, around 5764 km.sq of land would be lost due to inundation and some 4200 km of roads would be destroyed. A rise in the sea level associated with increased temperatures may lead to salt-water ingression in the coastal lands, making them unsuitable for conventional agriculture. Acute water shortage conditions, combined with thermal stress, could adversely affect wheat and rice production that are principal food crops in India and the backbone of its economy (Jayshree, 2006).Quality and quantity of other agricultural products such as cotton, fruits, vegetables, tea coffee, aromatic and medicinal plants, and the nutritional quality of cereals and pulses may be adversely affected due to climate change.

The vulnerability of the state of Tripura would be more obvious than any other state in India. Climate change will particularly challenge Tripura’s ability to achieve the prevalent rates of economic growth needed to sustain constant growth and development. Moreover, with close geographic, cultural and linguistic proximity to Bangladesh, it has been predicted by the World Meteorological Organization(1992) and other international environmental studies (Leiserowitz, 2012) that in the event of sea level rise in the Bay of Bengal, millions of people living in the low lying coastal regions in Bangladesh would be displaced and reduced to ‘environmental refugees’ and may try to seek asylum in the upland of the state of Tripura. Besides, with abrupt sea level rise in the Bay of Bengal, all the major rivers in the North Eastern region like the Brahmaputra that flow out to the ocean will not have a way to mingle with the Bay of Bengal. As a result, there are chances of rampant floods in the plains of the North Eastern region. Economic wellbeing and the livelihoods of the people living in the state of Tripura might be at stake due to climate change.

Review of literature and significance of the study

In recent years, a significant number of research works has been conducted measuring public understanding of climate change and the role of mass media in educating them, but not a single one on the perspective of the students in Tripura, Agartala.

Vani Saraju Rao (2011) studied public perceptions and awareness about global warming in India through a survey of 851 subjects in the city of Hyderabad in 2007. Samples were selected from nine segments of the society through stratified sampling method. The results showed that although people consider global warming a serious problem, they do not understand its causes, impacts, and consequences. They expected the society and the government to take care to stop it. They thought that individual actions could also count a lot.

A study set in the rural parts of eastern India during 1994 and 1995 explored association of age, social category (caste and tribal status), education, residence, and income with environmental concerns at the local level. It found that people in India associate environmental problems with deforestation, soil erosion, displacement of indigenous people, drought, flood, sanitation, health; and air and water pollution.

Global climate change is a challenge to entire humanity and the ways and means to combat it are meager (Stehr N & Storch H, 2005). In spite of this, the people of the world, from policy makers down to individuals, are bogged in a quagmire of conflicting mindsets of denial, disbelief, reservations or indecision about the extent of the threat and adaptive responses to it. For this reason, perception research on climate change becomes extremely crucial from the students point of view. Proper knowledge and awareness on global warming may help form positive attitudes towards environmental conservation among the students who are a major stakeholder in the issue and motivate them to take correctional steps to combat it (Corbett J., Durfee, 2004).

In 2006, the World Public Opinion (WPO) and the Chicago Council of World Affairs conducted a survey of 18 countries on “Climate Change and the Environment”, including India. The six-question survey of 1,452 subjects in India found that people in India were very skeptical about the need for action against global warming. Only 49 per cent favored taking steps to address the issue. Of these, 19 per cent felt the problem was pressing enough to merit immediate, costly measures, and the other 30 per cent believed that only gradual, low-cost steps were needed. Nearly 24 per cent said that costly action should be avoided until there is certainty that global warming is really a problem. A significant number, 78 per cent, said that global warming could threaten India’s ‘vital interests’ within the next decade. 51 per cent believed it could become a ‘critical threat’. 48 per cent said they would support a deal under which developing nations could limit GHG emissions with assistance from developed countries.29 per cent were against the proposal (WPO, 2006).

Considering the research gaps, this study is an exploration into the young students of the state regarding their understanding and perceived threat about climate change issues and the role of mass media in spreading the awareness.

Methods and materials

Here purpose sampling technique was adopted and samples comprised of school level (class IX, X, XI, XII) and college level students who are currently studying in any of the science, arts and commerce streams in undergraduate classes was considered. A total of 120 students (both male and female, n=120) had participated in the survey. Care was taken to include equal number of male and female students, so that there would not be any disparity regarding sex /representation of the respondents. Hence 30 male students and 30 female students from each of the school and degree classes were selected as representative sample for the study. A closed-ended questionnaire survey was administered to a total of 120 school and college students in the month of June 2012.The students surveyed included students studying in both government and private educational institutions.

Findings and discussion

The overall analysis was compartmentalized into five themes: awareness about climate change, perceived manifestation and threat of climate change in Tripura, perceived solutions to climate change, sources of information on climate change issues and perceived role of mass media in awareness generation process on global climate change and biodiversity loss.

An overwhelming majority of the students surveyed do not identify climate change as a significant threat issue for the present times; rather they consider it as a future worry. There might be several reasons for this; it may be that the issue still remains more of an abstract concern than a real one, something that will affect them immediately, but only indirectly. Students do not seem to hold any notions of how climate change will impact on their daily lives, or they have a psychological perception that nothing can be done at an individual level.

Table 1

From Table-1, it is seen that regarding sex and class, the percentage of the male students who have heard about global warming and climate change and consider it as a genuine major problem affecting the entire humanity was higher than their female counterparts for both the two segments (school level and college level) of the population under study. Male students seem to know more than their female counterparts. 66.33 per cent school level male students know that global climate change is a genuine problem confronting the entire humanity, whereas it was only 60 per cent at school level female students. Similarly, it was 76.66 per cent at college level male students and 73.33 per cent with regard to college level female students.

 Thus, in both the fronts, female students scored comparatively less with their awareness regarding global climate change and they consider it as a less major global problem facing the entire humanity. This reflects that there are students who have still not heard or are not aware of the fact that global climate change and global warming is an impending danger facing the humanity. The proper awareness on the different issues concerning global climate change would go a long way in mitigating the global warming by adopting individual corrective steps/ measures like sensible use of fossil fuel and reducing CO2 emission by the student community as they will one day lead the country in different capacities.

Table 2

Next, it was sought to gauge the overall level of awareness on climate change among the students under study. Certain questions were put for this purpose. Those students who answered all the questions correctly were placed in the category that had extensive awareness of global climate change and students who answered only some of the questions correctly were placed in the category that had primary awareness of global climate change. It was found from the Table-2 that 40 per cent of the school level female students had extensive awareness of different aspects of global climate change. It was 66.66 per cent for their male counterparts, which is a bit higher than their female counterparts at the school level. In case of college students, 60 per cent college level male students had extensive awareness of global climate change which was 10 per cent higher than their female counterparts.

Table -3

From Table-3 it is clear that Television happens to be the largest source of first time information on global climate change for the respondents. 50 per cent of the school level male students and 46.66 per cent school female students had received information on global climate change from Television. As for college level male students, it was 33.33 per cent and 50 per cent for their female counterparts. Television scored an overall 45 per cent among the respondents surveyed as the first and foremost source of information on global climate change. From among the different sources of information, Teachers scored the second highest (16.66 per cent). It was followed by Newspapers and Magazines (11.66 per cent), which was equal to the Radio. It is not surprising to note that Television being the most entertaining and ubiquitous mass media should score the highest. Newspapers and Magazines as a medium of communication scored the third position among the respondents. The presence of other medium of mass communication was found negligible in communicating the information on global climate change.

Table -4

Table-4 reflects that 53.33 per cent school level male and 63.33 per cent of college level male students feel that mass media can play an effective role in informing and motivating people to protect their environment and adopt positive measures in mitigating global climate change and biodiversity loss . It was found that 66.66 per cent school level female and 56.66 per cent of college level female students feel that mass media can play an effective role in informing and motivating people to protect their environment and adopt positive measures in mitigating global climate change.

Overall, 60 per cent students feel that mass media can play a definite role in informing and motivating people to protect their environment and adopt positive measures in mitigating global climate change and biodiversity loss. But, 11.60 per cent do not feel so while 28.30 per cent of students do not know of this fact or cannot say anything with respect to this issue.

Conclusions

From the study it was found that the students belonging to different schools and colleges in Agartala were not aware of most of the nitty-gritty of the issues around climate change and biodiversity loss. Therefore, they were not able to answer correctly all the questions posed by the researcher. From this, we can surmise the picture of the whole State. If students from the capital city did not fare well in their knowledge on issues around climate change and biodiversity loss, the case would obviously be grim when it comes to rural areas of the state. Students in the state of Tripura may be inadequately prepared for a world that will change dramatically owing to climate change. The policy makers have a long way to go if they want to combat global climate change problem seriously. Much more has to be done to educate the student community on the issues of climate change, mitigation and adaptation. An age, sex and class difference was marked with respect to awareness on issues around climate change and biodiversity loss in the students understudy. The college level students were more aware than the school level students, which is but obvious. Similarly, the male students were more aware of issues around climate change as compared to their female counterparts in both levels of classes.

It can be further argued that educators in schools and colleges are in a position to empower their students with the capability to survive in a soon to be precarious world. Hence, it would be pertinent to propose that schools and colleges should do more to fill this gap by mainstreaming climate change and global warming issues into curriculum with a view to providing students with the skills to pursue adaptive strategies in order to cope with the problems that climate change will bring.

Mass media also has to be proactive in diffusion of climate change communication. The agenda setting power of the mass media and especially of the newspapers and magazines or the printed word still holds a respectable place of position in the hierarchy of mass media habits among the student community in this age of internet and video on-demand. Newspapers being less costly medium than television should be used by the government and the policy makers to spread global climate change awareness. Besides, putting straight hard news on global climate change, feature stories and other forms of soft news in newspapers and magazines can drive the message on do’s and don’ts regarding global climate change more effectively than any other medium because the written word carries a lot of credibility among the readers.

This study is not conclusive. Because of the constraints of time and resources, larger samples could not be taken. Clearly from such a small sample, all conclusions are necessarily tentative and open to dispute. The study could be extended in the future to encompass larger samples from several institutions and supported by in depth discussions like focus group discussions which would have revealed a more nuanced picture and that would have resulted in better quality understanding of the problem. This should be the focus of the future research.

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