Google Trends Shows Climategate Was Just A Blip

 

Google Trends Shows Climategate Was Just A Blip

Whether negative or positive, reports about climate-change science have only a passing effect on public opinion, a new study shows.

This dynamic suggests that climate scientists should re-examine how to effectively and more regularly engage the public, the researchers write.

Measured by how often people worldwide scour the internet for information related to climate change, overall public interest in the topic has steadily waned since 2007, according to a report in the journal Environmental Research Letters.

Yet, the downturn in public interest does not seem tied to any particular negative publicity regarding climate-change science, which is what the researchers primarily wanted to gauge.

First author William Anderegg, a postdoctoral research associate in the Princeton Environmental Institute who studies communication and climate change, and Gregory Goldsmith, a postdoctoral researcher at Oxford’s Environmental Change Institute, specifically looked into the effect on public interest and opinion of two widely reported, almost simultaneous events.

The first involved the November 2009 hacking of emails from the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia in the United Kingdom, which has been a leading source of data confirming human-driven climate change.

Known as “climategate,” this event was initially trumpeted as proving that dissenting scientific views related to climate change have been maliciously quashed. Thorough investigations later declared that no misconduct took place.

The second event was the revelation in late 2009 that an error in the 2007 Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)—an organization under the auspices of the United Nations that periodically evaluates the science and impacts of climate change—overestimated how quickly glaciers in the Himalayas would melt.

Searching For Climategate

To first get a general sense of public interest in climate change, Anderegg and Goldsmith combed the freely available database Google Trends for “global warming,” “climate change,” and all related terms that people around the world searched for between 2004 and 2013.

The researchers documented search trends in English, Chinese, and Spanish, which are the top three languages online. Google Trends receives more than 80 percent of the world’s search-engine activity, and it is increasingly called upon for research in economics, political science, and public health.

Internet searches related to climate change began to climb following the 2006 release of the documentary An Inconvenient Truth starring former US vice president Al Gore, and continued its ascent with the release of the IPCC’s fourth report, the researchers found.

Anderegg and Goldsmith specifically viewed searches for “climategate” between November 1 and December 31, 2009. They found that the search trend had a six-day “half-life,” meaning that search frequency dropped by 50 percent every six days.

After 22 days, the number of searches for climategate was a mere 10 percent of its peak. Information about climategate was most sought in the United States, Canada, and Australia, while the cities with the most searchers were Toronto, London, and Washington, DC.

Quick Online Half-life

The researchers tracked the popularity of the term “global warming hoax” to gauge the overall negative effect of climategate and the IPCC error on how the public perceives climate change. They found that searches for the term were actually higher the year before the events than during the year afterward.

“The search volume quickly returns to the same level as before the incident,” Goldsmith says. “This suggests no long-term change in the level of climate-change skepticism.

We found that intense media coverage of an event such as ‘climategate’ was followed by bursts of public interest, but these bursts were short-lived.”

All of this is to say that moments of great consternation for climate scientists seem to barely register in the public consciousness, Anderegg says. The study notes that independent polling data also indicate that these events had very little effect on American public opinion.

“There’s a lot of handwringing among scientists, and a belief that these events permanently damaged public trust. What these results suggest is that that’s just not true,” Anderegg says.

While that’s good in a sense, Anderegg says, his and Goldsmith’s results also suggest that climate change as a whole does not top the list of gripping public topics. For instance, he says, climategate had the same online half-life as the public fallout from pro-golfer Tiger Woods’ extramarital affair, which happened around the same (but received far more searches).

How Should Scientists Adjust?

A public with little interest in climate change is unlikely to push for policies that actually address the problem, Anderegg says. He and Goldsmith suggest communicating in terms familiar to the public rather than to scientists.

For example, their findings suggest that most people still identify with the term “global warming” instead of “climate change,” though the shift toward embracing the more scientific term is clear.

“If public interest in climate change is falling, it may be more difficult to muster public concern to address climate change,” Anderegg says. “This long-term trend of declining interest is worrying and something I hope we can address soon.”

One outcome of the research might be to shift scientists’ focus away from battling short-lived, so-called scandals, says Michael Oppenheimer, professor of geosciences and international affairs at Princeton.

The study should remind climate scientists that every little misstep or controversy does not make or break the public’s confidence in their work, he says. Oppenheimer, who was not involved in the study, is a long-time participant in the IPCC and an author of the Fifth Assessment Report being released this year in sections.

“This is an important study because it puts scientists’ concerns about climate skepticism in perspective,” Oppenheimer says.

“While scientists should maintain the aspirational goal of their work being error-free, they should be less distracted by concerns that a few missteps will seriously influence attitudes in the general public, which by-and-large has never heard of these episodes.”

Source: Princeton University
Original Study

enafarzh-CNzh-TWdanltlfifrdeiwhihuiditjakomsnofaplptruesswsvthtrukurvi

follow InnerSelf on

facebook-icontwitter-iconrss-icon

 Get The Latest By Email

{emailcloak=off}

POLITICS

How Much Do People Care About Climate Change? We Surveyed 80,000 People In 40 Countries To Find Out
How Much Do People Care About Climate Change? We Surveyed 80,000 People In 40 Countries To Find Out
by Simge Andı and James Painter
New survey results from 40 countries shows that climate change matters to most people. In the vast majority of…
Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro Is Devastating Indigenous Lands, With The World Distracted
Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro Is Devastating Indigenous Lands, With The World Distracted
by Brian Garvey, and Mauricio Torres
The Amazon fires of 2019 drove the greatest single year loss of Brazilian forest in a decade. But with the world in the…
How Dystopian Narratives Can Incite Real-world Radicalism
How Dystopian Narratives Can Incite Real-World Radicalism
by Calvert Jones and Celia Paris
Humans are storytelling creatures: the stories we tell have profound implications for how we see our role in the world,…
Talking About Energy Change Could Break The Climate impasse
Talking About Energy Change Could Break The Climate Impasse
by InnerSelf Staff
Everyone has energy stories, whether they’re about a relative working on an oil rig, a parent teaching a child to turn…
Violent Weather Rises Spur More Political Conflict
Violent Weather Rises Spur More Political Conflict
by Tim Radford
Violent weather – seasonal storms, floods, fires and droughts – is growing more extreme, more often.
India Finally Takes Climate Crisis Seriously
India Finally Takes Climate Crisis Seriously
by Nivedita Khandekar
With financial losses and a heavy death toll from climate-related disasters constantly rising, India is at last…
Russia Moves To Exploit Arctic Riches
Russia Moves To Exploit Arctic Riches
by Paul Brown
As the polar sea ice vanishes faster, Russia unveils plans to exploit Arctic riches: fossil fuel deposits, minerals and…
Will Billionaire Climate Philanthropists Always Be Part Of The Problem
Will Billionaire Climate Philanthropists Always Be Part Of The Problem
by Heather Alberro
Jeff Bezos, Amazon CEO and the richest man alive, recently made headlines after pledging to donate $10 billion to a new…

LATEST VIDEOS

Methane Emissions Hit Record Breaking Levels
Methane Emissions Hit Record Breaking Levels
by Josie Garthwaite
Global emissions of methane have reached the highest levels on record, research shows.
kelp forrest 7 12
How The Forests Of The World’s Oceans Contribute To Alleviating The Climate Crisis
by Emma Bryce
Researchers are looking to kelp for help storing carbon dioxide far beneath the surface of the sea.
Tiny Plankton Drive Processes In The Ocean That Capture Twice As Much Carbon As Scientists Thought
Tiny Plankton Drive Processes In The Ocean That Capture Twice As Much Carbon As Scientists Thought
by Ken Buesseler
The ocean plays a major role in the global carbon cycle. The driving force comes from tiny plankton that produce…
Climate Change Threatens Drinking Water Quality Across The Great Lakes
Climate Change Threatens Drinking Water Quality Across The Great Lakes
by Gabriel Filippelli and Joseph D. Ortiz
“Do Not Drink/Do Not Boil” is not what anyone wants to hear about their city’s tap water. But the combined effects of…
Talking About Energy Change Could Break The Climate impasse
Talking About Energy Change Could Break The Climate Impasse
by InnerSelf Staff
Everyone has energy stories, whether they’re about a relative working on an oil rig, a parent teaching a child to turn…
Crops Could Face Double Trouble From Insects And A Warming Climate
Crops Could Face Double Trouble From Insects And A Warming Climate
by Gregg Howe and Nathan Havko
For millennia, insects and the plants they feed on have been engaged in a co-evolutionary battle: to eat or not be…
To Reach Zero Emissions Government Must Address Hurdles Putting People Off Electric Cars
To Reach Zero Emissions Government Must Address Hurdles Putting People Off Electric Cars
by Swapnesh Masrani
Ambitious targets have been set by the UK and Scottish governments to become net-zero carbon economies by 2050 and 2045…
Spring Is Arriving Earlier Across The US, And That's Not Always Good News
Spring Is Arriving Earlier Across The US, And That's Not Always Good News
by Theresa Crimmins
Across much of the United States, a warming climate has advanced the arrival of spring. This year is no exception.

LATEST ARTICLES

Routine Gas Flaring Is Wasteful, Polluting And Undermeasured
Routine Gas Flaring Is Wasteful, Polluting And Undermeasured
by Gunnar W. Schade
If you’ve driven through an area where companies extract oil and gas from shale formations, you’ve probably seen flames…
Flight Shaming: How To Spread The Campaign That Made Swedes Give Up Flying For Good
Flight Shaming: How To Spread The Campaign That Made Swedes Give Up Flying For Good
by Avit K Bhowmik
Europe’s major airlines are likely to see their turnover drop by 50% in 2020 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic,…
Will The Climate Warm As Much As Feared By Some?
Will The Climate Warm As Much As Feared By Some?
by Steven Sherwood et al
We know the climate changes as greenhouse gas concentrations rise, but the exact amount of expected warming remains…
How To Make Floating Wind Farms The Future Of Green Electricity
How To Make Floating Wind Farms The Future Of Green Electricity
by Susan Gourvenec
Since 2010, wind energy has seen sustained growth worldwide, with the amount of energy generated by offshore wind…
What If We Took All Farm Animals Off The Land And Planted Crops And Trees Instead?
What If We Took All Farm Animals Off The Land And Planted Crops And Trees Instead?
by Sebastian Leuzinger
I would like to know how much difference we could make to our commitment under the Paris Agreement and our total…
Methane Emissions Hit Record Breaking Levels
Methane Emissions Hit Record Breaking Levels
by Josie Garthwaite
Global emissions of methane have reached the highest levels on record, research shows.
How Banks Are Trying To Capture The Green Transition
How Banks Are Trying To Capture The Green Transition
by Tomaso Ferrand,and Daniel Tischer
Private sector banks in the UK should have a central role in financing climate action and supporting a just transition…
To Build A Better Canada After COVID-19 Launch A Fossil-free Future
To Build A Better World After COVID-19 Launch A Fossil-Free Future
by Kyla Tienhaara et al
Demand for fossil fuels collapsed during the COVID-19 pandemic as lockdown measures were introduced. In the second…