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Public Are Terminally Bored With Climate Hype

Joanne Nova

The big news from this new study is no news — the public are more bored with climate change than ever, and the trend is down.

The fever peaked in 2007, and the last great spike of interest was in late 2009 when ClimateGate finished it off. Though that’s not the way Anderegg sees it.

Anderegg infamously published the blacklist of scientists in PNAS, so we know he struggles with the scientific method. Here, flawed assumptions render the conclusions a wishful fantasy. Anderegg argues that ClimateGate was not a big deal, didn’t affect opinions much, and (yawn) climate scientists need to do better communication. He’s wrong.

His study misses the major damage — by assuming that the public are a uniform block his research could never uncover that the real effects of ClimateGate were devastating and irreversible. The scandal changed the opinions that matter — those of the smart engaged thinkers and leaders. I noted at the time that ClimateGate had put a rocket under the layer of influential busy achievers like never before.

Suddenly people who hadn’t taken much interest in the debate were fired into action by the fraud. The nodes of influence shifted – as I said in The ClimateGate Virus at the time: “Behind the scenes, well connected businessmen in California, surgeons in Sydney, lawyers in the UK, and top ranking physicists are emailing and linking up.” My site traffic rose like never before and now is even higher. Climategate brought in a new caliber of players. Recent survey’s back me up: the highest proportion of skeptics are in the upper middle class. The unskilled workers, the unemployed and pensioners are more likely to believe in “climate change” (whatever that means).

What followed in the next four years was that the money shifted out of the game, politicians lost their nerve (think of Kevin Rudd), people paid  lip-service, but in reality, the faith was sliding as the opinion leaders melted away. By mid 2011 even the media abandoned the meme.

Princeton University and University of Oxford researchers found that negative media reports seem to have only a passing effect on public opinion, but that positive stories don’t appear to possess much staying power, either. 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. To gauge public interest, the researchers used Google Trends to document the Internet search-engine activity for “global warming” (blue line) and “climate change” (red line) from 2004 to 2013. They examined activity both globally (top) and in the United States (bottom). The numbers on the left indicate how often people looked up each term based on its percentage of the maximum search volume at any given point in time. (Image courtesy of William Anderegg)

I point out the assumptions and holes below:

Public interest in climate change unshaken by scandal, but unstirred by science (Environ. Res. Lett.) – [ScienceDaily]

The good news for any passionate supporter of climate-change science is that negative media reports seem to have only a passing effect on public opinion, according to Princeton University and University of Oxford researchers. The bad news is that positive stories don’t appear to possess much staying power, either. This dynamic suggests that climate scientists should reexamine how to effectively and more regularly engage the public, the researchers write.

Public opinion hasn’t changed? Hardly — a recent UK study showed 62% don’t believe in man-made global warming. Worse, the believers are more likely to be lower class, unskilled workers.  The smart layer of society got the message in ClimateGate and that genie can’t be put back in the bottle.

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