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Public Interest in Climate Change over the Past 10 Years

May 23, 2014; 4:17 PM ET

Research teams from Princeton University and the University of Oxford looked at how often people worldwide searched the internet for information related to climate over the past 10 years and found that public interest had steadily waned since it's peak in 2007. This is also the year following the release of Al Gore's documentary 'An Inconvenient Truth" and the same year as the major IPCC report.

Google search trends for 'global warming' blue line and 'climate change' red line since 2004 for the world and U.S. (graph courtesy of William Anderegg)

The study found that negative media reports on climate change only have a passing effect on public opinion, but that positive media reports have had little staying power either.

Key excerpts from the Princeton University report via Eurekalert.

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 said. "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, said first author William Anderegg, a postdoctoral research associate in the Princeton Environmental Institute who studies communication and climate change. 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 said.

While that's good in a sense, Anderegg said, his and Goldsmith's results also suggest that climate change as a whole does not top the list of gripping public topics.

The researchers state that climate scientists need to find a better, more effective way to more regularly engage the public.

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of AccuWeather, Inc. or AccuWeather.com

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Climate Change
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