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    Green Fatigue: Public Isn't Affected By Climate Change Scandals - Or New Science
    By News Staff | May 20th 2014 06:00 PM | 31 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments

    After reaching a high-water mark in 2006, when media talking points were portrayed by journalists as settled science prior to the actual IPCC reports in 2007, people have steadily lost interest in climate change since then.

    There is an upside to that. Scandals like ClimateGate didn't damage public support. The bad thing remains that all of the new evidence for climate change isn't helping either. The public in the middle is simply numb and then people on the sides are entrenched.

    In order to do more than move the public a little, climate scientists need to reexamine how to effectively and more regularly engage people. Conspiracy stories about Big Oil and blasting Republicans for being anti-science have no relevance when Greenpeace protests Golden Rice And Democrats get a free pass for being against vaccines, GMOs and cleaner energy.

    William Anderegg and Gregory Goldsmith, specifically looked into the effect on public interest and opinion of two widely reported, almost simultaneous events. The first was the November 2009 release of emails from the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia in the United Kingdom. Investigations found that no scientific misconduct took place but the charges that activists inside science were interested in blocking research they didn't like fed the belief of critics that climate change was in large part a political movement rather than a science issue.

    Later in 2009, it was revealed that numerous flawed papers - some written by activists, some "grey literature" that hadn't been published - had been used in the 2007 Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Claims that Africa would suffer massive farming drops by 2020 and the Himalayas would be melted by 2035 were shown to have no factual basis at all, the latter was just a claim in an interview.

    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 on the Internet. 

    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, and continued its ascent with the release of the IPCC's fourth report, the researchers found.




    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

    Anderegg and Goldsmith specifically viewed searches for "climategate" between Nov. 1 and Dec. 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, D.C.

    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, Anderegg said. 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. For instance, he said, climategate had the same Internet half-life as the public fallout from pro-golfer Tiger Woods' extramarital affair, which happened around the same (but received far more searches).

    A public with little interest in climate change is unlikely to push for policies that actually address the problem, Anderegg said. 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.



     The researchers found that searchers for the phrase "global warming hoax" and related terms correlate in the United States with Republican or conservative political leanings. They compared the prevalence of searches for "global warming hoax" with the Cook Partisan Voting Index -- which gauges how far toward Republicans or Democrats a congressional district leans -- for 34 US states (above). They found that the more Republican/conservative the state (bottom measurement), the more frequently people in that state looked up related terms. The bottom graph shows how often a state votes Democrat (low numbers) versus Republican (high numbers). The numbers on the left indicate how often people looked up "global warming hoax" based on its percentage of the maximum search volume at any given point in time. Image courtesy of William Anderegg

    "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."

    One outcome of the research might be to shift scientists' focus away from battling short-lived, so-called scandals, said Michael Oppenheimer, Princeton's Albert G. Milbank Professor of Geosciences and International Affairs. 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 said. 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 said. "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."


     Published in Environmental Research Letters.  

    Comments

    Please proofread your posts:

    "Investigations found that no scientific misconduct took place but the charges they activists inside science were interesting in manipulating journals and blocking out research they didn't like fed the belief by critics that climate change was in large part a political movement rather than a science issue."

    What?

    Scientists have proven themselves inconsistent and vaguely unethical in this whole enterprise. Not to give climate deniers any credence either. But not trusting either one and not living anywhere near a coast, I simply don't care. Flood. It won't reach me. And if it did, I'd simply move inland.

    Weather? Don't live in Florida if you worry about hurricanes. Make sure you have a basement in tornado alley. Done.

    Will you care if food becomes scarce?

    If food becomes scarce?!?

    See, it's lying fearmongering claims like that which give the 'climate change' bandwagon a bad name.

    Here's why there ZERO CHANCE that more CO2 by 2050 means less food:
    1. CO2 is plant FOOD. Higher CO2 levels increase biomass production AND make the plants more drought resistant.
    2. Technology in agriculture continues to advance, such that crop yields today are 3X more than in the 1950s. More to come in the next decades.
    3. Any regional changes will be slower (many decades) than the pace of adaptation

    Here's what all those who are claiming there is a crisis should do:
    Wait until we get another 0.5C of warming and only THEN do we take any drastic action. If they are right, after 0.5C, we will still have time to fix things, we can stop CO2 emissions cold with a nuclear power plant construction spree similar to what France did in 1980s. Within 30 years could cut emissions globally 75% just by building 3 nuclear power plants a month. but if they are wrong, we've avoided unnecessary drastic action.

    Deal?

    Not surprising that you would support industrial monoculture in both agriculture and power generation. Preposterous to think that sensible people would cut a deal with someone so heavily invested in just one source of power, given how well that worked out when we put our energy policy eggs in one basket with fossil fuel dependence.

    It will be a shorter wait to see how well agriculture does this year in drought-stricken California than waiting needlessly to see 0.5C of warming. My family grows food crops on a small acreage. It's experience, not fear mongering, that qualifies me to point out that weather extremes can destroy or reduce crop yield. So sorry that reality is messing with your long term investment scheme, but no deal.

    Not surprising that you would support industrial monoculture in both agriculture and power generation. "

    Any rational person who sees how we can support 7 billion people on planet earth with 'industrial monoculture'
    and do it with less land than we used 40 years ago to feed half as many people would conclude..
    "YES, THIS WORKS".

    "Preposterous to think that sensible people would cut a deal with someone so heavily invested in just one source of power"

    Completely off-base. I am supportive of ALL energy forms from wind and nuclear to natural gas to solar, geothermal, and hydro to coal (so long as its clean ie low emissions of pollutants), etc. Lets use ALL forms of energy that are economical and efficient. It's further insane to implicate some self-interest due to my support of common-sense energy policies (as opposed to anti-energy policies).

    " It's experience, not fear mongering, that qualifies me to point out that weather extremes can destroy or reduce crop yield. "
    It's science, not fear mongering, that qualifies me to point out that weather extremes have no relation to global warming.

    The lack of interest is probably fueled by the idea that there's nothing we can do. Even if the US makes big strides in cutting CO2 emissions, India and China won't. It's not that we don't believe the science, it's that one household is overwhelmed in a world of 7+ billion people and feel we can't make a difference. We can't "free Tibet", we can't stop Boko Haram, and we can't stop India from growing to the point that most of their households can afford a car - and in the last case we can't justify doing so while we have 2-3 cars per household.

    Alas, here is more grim evidence that the Bush administration's efforts to dumb down America really worked. Polluters rejoice! (You won - for now)

    Apul's remark above further illustrates the desperately thin awareness people have of this issue.

    I'm normally a happy person, but this makes me really sad.

    I love it....BUSH at fault....after all these years....please, give up on this already...face reality...climate change doctrine is here because Al Gore needed money, so he wrote a non scientific book that libs loved

    A note for future genertions of scientists. The moral of the story is that the public has a short attention span and you have a very brief amount of time to convince people. Once people pick a side, most don't re-examine their positions, so make sure you have a solid case before you force people to pick sides. That way they are more likely to pick yours. On the plus side, the scientific method is that after you form a hypothesis you should test it instead of going directly to holding press conferences, so you'll actually be doing better science this way. Sorry climate change folks, I'm not as frustrated with you as I am with the nutrition activists that killed millions of Americans over the last few decades by doing the same thing you did. But the pattern in both cases is the same.

    We are dealing with big issues with huge consequences, so I can understand that it is tempting to react to the urgency you see and feel you have to get the word out. And doing the science to solidify your position is going to take years if not decades so you can't wait that long, right? But either you are gong to be like the climate change researchers and alienate a lot of people because your evidence hasn't been well-developed yet, and end up being largely ignored by policy makers, or you are going to jump to the wrong conclusion but jam it down policy maker's throats with the backing of whatever industry lobbies benefit most from your premature science and then find out you were completely wrong and the policies you pushed are killing people. Or you will be like Science in the Public Interest and sue McDonalds to force them to switch from coconut oil to hydrogenated vegetable oil, then have it turn out that coconut oil isn't particularly bad and hydrogenated oils are toxic. Oops.

    So again, be scientists. The scientific method is there for a reason, and taking shortcuts will just backfire in the end.

    I'm not as frustrated with you as I am with the nutrition activists that killed millions of Americans over the last few decades by doing the same thing you did. But the pattern in both cases is the same. "

    It is indeed!!

    I read Gary Taubes book on how they maligned fat and cholesterol with "Govt studies" Which in the end were junk science and is now debunked. In the process, the war against fat turned Americans into carb-oholics hooked on too many carbs that gave us diabetes and obesity epidemics ... and more heart disease too boot. Fat doesnt make you as fat as excess carbs.

    "Or you will be like Science in the Public Interest and sue McDonalds to force them to switch from coconut oil to hydrogenated vegetable oil, then have it turn out that coconut oil isn't particularly bad and hydrogenated oils are toxic. Oops."

    The analogy to Climate Science is our fear of CO2 and fossil fuels making us use up cropland for biofuels which probably are doing more environmental harm than if we just stuck with good ol' oil pumped out of the ground.

    For Climate science, it's a repeat. Dubious 'scientific results' are hyped to create a Fear, an Agenda, and an enemy (CO2!) ... but in reality the demon is not that bad at all. CO2 is plant food. and the fears are over-stated and NOT based on the real solid science. For example, the IPCC models have overestimated warming by 3x. If you back that out the warming trends are moderate and benign.

    Sooner or later the truth will out. People are tuning out climate scaremongering stories that calls itself 'science' (but really isn't) because, duh ... it

    i would argue the lack of interest stems from the terrible economy. putting food on the table, or finding a job, takes precedence over devastating climate damage. once the economy has fully recovered (not just the stock market) this will gain it's deserved attention.

    This is bad news for the human species. The advance of our technical expertise will inevitably increase the ways we can affect our environment. But we don't seem to be able to respond to any affect that has a long time delay. Maybe we might survive our impact on climate. But eventually we will create a situation we won't escape.

    This is bad news for the human species. The advance of our technical expertise will inevitably increase the ways we can affect our environment. But we don't seem to be able to respond to any affect that has a long time delay. Maybe we might survive our impact on climate. But eventually we will create a situation we won't escape.

    It's not interest I lost; it's hope. I ignore climate news to avoid despair.

    The billionaires, alGore, and his stretch limo liberal friends all stand to be richer.

    Science is relative and a tool of theirs to thin your wallet.

    Suppose I created a model that accurately predicted climate patterns from today to year n. This alone is not proof that my model will correctly predict climate change in the year n+1. This is because no amount of data can prove a rule.

    As such, climate change won't be a "fact" until its affects have already been observed. (even then, how will you control for all other variables?) Skepticism is an important part of Science, and I expect the community to continue researching climate change indefinitely.

    But as far as public policy are concerned, there is sufficient evidence to suggest that climate change is more likely than not to be happening.

    The solution is two-fold: First, stop mixing the scientific debate with the public policy debate. Second, discourage thinking in black or white. In other words, it seems like people think that something is either a fact, or it is a lie, and don't have time to be bothered with theories. These two cultural shifts are necessary to lift the toxic atmosphere that so far has prevented any meaningful action to combat climate change.

    Yes, the attention has waned, because we all know big oil, big money are in power in this country. Wait until next year, when food prices rocket 50-60%, because the farmlands are parched in this country already and the season has just started. The old conservative approach; lets have more research, lets have another committee look into it, lets wait for the drought to end on its own, cause it happens all the time, it's natural; heralds more distrust by the people towards Gov.. Instead of playing with a shale oil pipeline through our farmlands, how about the Army Corps. of Engineers put in place, pipelines to distribute water, from say, the Great Lakes to more arid areas. If they can build cities for other countries and bolster their economies with our tax monies, why can't our Gov., do something like this for us?. Yeah, the elections are going to be a major defeat for the conservative parties and the media will act as they always do, pretend there is some sort of 'Message' in do nothing politics, that will take us, to some imaginary better place for all. Lol.

    Dear Big Oil conspiracy theorist. Without petroleum, food prices will rocket 500-600%. Where do you think food comes from? For petes sake, go do something with your own two hands before assuming conspiracies are against you.

    None of the comments on this list address the true cause for the high interest than sporadic waning over the life of ANY issue... HUMANS like novelty, and 15 minutes after they read a new way of putting something, they simply lose interest. We all came here because this article calls this 'Green Fatigue' and now we've responded and no longer care. The reporters better use 'Green Anti-Rage' or 'Green Somnolence' or 'Green Elixir Fails' or some other catchy phrase... or we won't be back.

    Flawed papers, settled science, what's the difference? The average layman will never give impartial consideration, no matter how factual the information. A fair shake cannot be expected from bigots when the IPCC board is stacked with homosexuals.
    Mitch Haase
    http://mitchhaase.wordpress.com

    I suppose the majority would be interest in something new, but now most people know it was a complete fraud that never existed other than a long term normal cycle. As soon as it changed from "Ice age coming" I knew I no longer had to be concerned about something totally false. I also recognized it is all done for money.

    This is NOT a study in the "interest" of any subject. It's more a study of attention spans. Once again...and ironically I think...data is completely misrepresented.

    If man-made global warming advocates want to impress me to the point that I will believe their hype, they need to do one thing. Take their best model, use it to predict a future event which they say is as a result of said global warming and then measure the accuracy of their prediction. For example, let's say they predict 10 hurricanes will impact the US next year. If those 10 hurricanes materialize, then I will subscribe to their ideas. But, if only 2 hurricanes impact the US, they have to agree to discard 80% of their gloom and doom predictions. Sound fair, wonder how many "scientist" will take on that test of the scientific method?

    No takers. Figures.

    Man affects his environment like every other creature also does. The concern that man should not affect his environment is the problem.

    Correct! And important! The climate scientists evidently felt a failed US politician would be a great spokesman, and of course, Al Gore did what every politician does -- turn the discussion into a campaign talking point.

    It's too late for the climate discussion -- we all know that 99% of the media attention to "climate change" is really campaign advertisement. The Democrats could care less if oceans rise 50 feet -- as long as they are in charge. If the Republicans had grabbed the issue first, they wouldn't care either.

    Scientists -- keep science for yourself and let politicians duke it out to see who can make the stupidest laws. Be your own spokesperson!

    I love the way "Global Warming" morphed into "Climate Change". Why? Facts maybe? Of course climates change. Go study climate change over the last billion years or so. The real question is are the acts of humans affecting climate change? Are there enough real facts (versus debatable opinion) pointing to "yes" to support the global economy taking a right turn to change things? I don't see those facts yet.

    I agree FredG. "Global Warming" was not changed to "Climate Change" because it is a more scientific term as the article claims. The change was made for political reasons because recent science indicates temperatures have quit rising, and when temperatures were last rising it was not significant or close to the extreme predictions of the "science" models. "Climate Change" is a meaningless scientific term but is a manipulative political term to frame political opponents as anti-science.
    It is sad how this article downplays the scandals of "science" and suggests future claims not be concerned about "missteps" (i.e., bias, deceit) because the public won't notice.
    The climate is always changing. Climate changes can be bad but can also be good. What are the benefits of some climate changes? How much of climate change is natural and how much is man made? Scientists do not know. And if we wanted to change the climate in a particular direction, could we? How long would it take? How much would it cost? Would such attempts have negative consequences?

    " Investigations found that no scientific misconduct took place but the charges they activists inside science were interesting in manipulating journals and blocking out research they didn't like fed the belief by critics that climate cange was in large part a political movement rather than a science issue."

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8BQpciw8suk

    Such actions tend to cause one to disbelieve anything these fear mongers have to say.

    Climate change is real. The question is what to do about it.
    Increasingly environmentalists are turning to nuclear power as the only answer that can truly reduce global CO2 emissions.
    The USA needs to get serious about nuclear power.
    http://www.youtube.com/user/PandorasPromiseMovie