NOVA, GBH’s flagship science multimedia program and the most popular primetime science series on American television, is tapping the powerful reach of public media, along with the widespread trust the program has earned, to shift the conversation on climate change from one that is often defeatist to another infused with positive solutions.
Climate Across America, a NOVA initiative launched this month, is spotlighting how climate change affects communities across the U.S. and engaging audiences in productive dialogues about innovative climate solutions. NOVA is working with 10 public media stations and with high school students to produce and distribute local climate-focused content, including shortform videos, radio/ audio stories, articles, e-newsletters and social media posts. At the same time, NOVA will premiere two new, one-hour climate documentaries, Weathering the Future (April 12 at 9pm on GBH 2 and the PBS App) and Chasing Carbon Zero (April 26 at 9pm on GBH 2 and the PBS App).
“This is an opportunity to tell stories that shed light on the impacts of climate change on American communities while also showcasing the innovative solutions that individuals and communities are developing to adapt,” said Chris Schmidt, co-executive producer of NOVA. “We hope these stories will provide help and hope.”
Climate change is one of the biggest challenges that humanity has ever faced, said Julia Cort, co-executive producer of NOVA. “As crucial as it is, communicating effectively about climate has also become extremely challenging. We are continually leveraging the latest research on how best to engage people in this difficult topic.”
The Climate Across America initiative is part of NOVA’s Science and Society program, which develops and tests models of digital content creation with local stations and provides communities with resources to jumpstart local discussion and discovery, such as toolkits that help communities screen the film, organize panel discussions and engage residents. “Our first topic was cannabis, and we worked with five local stations to develop short-form documentaries that they would post on their platforms and NOVA would amplify on our platforms,” said Cort. “The collaboration between national and local production teams deepened people’s understanding of issues surrounding cannabis and the local teams had a lot of success,” she said. “Some of their videos won awards, and one—Twice as Likely: Black Infant Mortality Rates in the U.S. from WKAR—was selected to be part of the PBS Short Film Festival.”
With major funding of the Climate Across America initiative from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and additional funding from GBH’s Planet Future Fund and The Arthur Vining Davis Foundations, NOVA is deepening its efforts to build the capacity of local PBS stations to tell these types of science stories that have an impact in their communities. The climate initiative will also be central for NOVA Science Studio, which teaches science journalism to high school students. This year a new curriculum will be unveiled on PBS LearningMedia, the free library of multimedia resources for educators.
NOVA, always the trailblazer, broadcast its first climate film in 1983, The Climate Crisis: The Greenhouse Effect, and has produced 30 more climate films since then. “There’s been a lot of climate science stories across the years on NOVA and we keep refining our approach as we learn more about what works,” said Schmidt. “There’s a lot of confusion about the science of climate change, its impact on weather and what solutions work or don’t work. If you talk about it in the wrong way, you’ll just turn some people off and you’ll end up speaking only to a part of the audience.”
Through their audience research, they’ve learned what reaches people. “We don’t come at viewers head-on and debate the facts but rather feature real people who are suffering from everyday impacts of climate change,” said Schmidt. It’s important too, he added, to highlight successful solutions and the boundless creativity and innovation that is being brought to bear.
“Chasing Carbon Zero and Weathering the Future are actually hopeful films,” he said. “They show that there’s still work to do, but I think viewers will come away feeling like there are a lot of people really working hard on this. “We need to look forward when it comes to climate science, impacts and solutions,” he added. “That’s what NOVA is all about.”
Audiences can follow the initiative online, starting on April 10, using the hashtag #ClimateAcrossAmerica.