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Climate Change: A 'Fleeting' Fad Among the Public

May 21, 2014 02:03 PM EDT
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Amidst media storms defending or refuting climate change, it seems that they in fact only have a fleeting effect on public opinion, new research shows.

According to Princeton University and University of Oxford researchers, whether the news be good or bad, based on scandal or scientific evidence, the public's interest in climate change is short lived, and even declining.

This dynamic suggests that climate scientists should reexamine how to effectively and more regularly engage the public, the researchers write in the journal Environmental Research Letters.

Study authors Greg Goldsmith and William Anderegg used the Google Trends tool to track web searches related to global warming over the past decade but found that peaks of interest in major stories, such as the release of climate scientists' emails in 2009 - dubbed "climategate" - died down within a few weeks, The Guardian reported.

They also analyzed searches for the phrases "climate change" and "global warming hoax."

After climategate, for example - an incident for which scientists were later cleared of allegations of misconduct - searches about global warming spiked, but then fell by 50 percent in six days and 90 percent in 22 days.

The same pattern occurred for searches for "Himalayan glaciers" when the public realized the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change made a mistake on their 2010 report about the rate of melting.

"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 in a statement.

Internet searches related to climate change began to climb following the 2006 release of the documentary "An Inconvenient Truth" starring former vice president Al Gore, the report writes.

But, according to a related report via The Guardian, a YouGov poll based on a sample of 4,300 adults showed that interest in climate change fell from 80 percent of respondents in 2006, to 71 percent last year and now stands at only 62 percent.

Climate change supporters may be glad to know that anti-climate change media is having little effect on public opinion; however, this report also indicates that positive climate change remarks have little to no weight either.

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

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