A group of Oxford dons has found that media coverage of climate change has little effect on the public’s views.
The study, carried out between the Oxford group and staff at Princeton University in the United States, compared the number of searches for climate change-related issues on popular search engine Google over a period of almost ten years.
They discovered that intense bursts of interest in climate change issues did not last for long, and the number of hits often returned to a low level just days after climate change was in the news.
The researchers also focused on particular words and phrases, including “global warming hoax” and “climategate”. The latter refers to an incident in 2009 when the email accounts of climate scientists at the University of East Anglia were hacked.
The number of searches for “climategate” halved in just under a week, the team found.
Dr Greg Goldsmith, a co-author of the report and a member of staff at Oxford’s School of Geography and the Environment, said in a statement: “The study uses the search term “global warming hoax” as an indicator of global warming scepticism amongst the public. Although we found an increase in the volume of searches for the term immediately after the news of the hacking of the emails from the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, the search volume quickly returns to the same level as before the incident. This suggests no long-term change in the level of climate change scepticism.
“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,” he added.
One student at Queen’s, who did not wish to be named, said: “For what it’s worth, my Google search history is nothing to do with climate change. I don’t think I can share most of the contents of that in a family newspaper.”
Dr William Anderegg from Princeton University said: “Our results showed that the volume of these search terms peaked in 2007 around a unique sequence of major events – the releases of Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth in August 2006 and the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report in April 2007 – and the level of interest has declined since then.”
“There is no single reason why the public have become less interested in climate change. However, research certainly suggests that economic issues, such as the recent recession, tend to take precedence over environmental issues like climate change.”