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New study suggests the public has lost interest in climate change

Courtesy: NASA Goddard Space Center

Courtesy: NASA Goddard Space Center

Cheryl Santa Maria
Digital Reporter

Thursday, May 22, 2014, 4:35 PM - The public has been steadily been losing interest in climate change following a peak in 2006, a new study suggests.

Researchers examined Google Trends between 2004 and present day to draw their conclusion.

"To evaluate temporal trends in public interest of climate change, we examined the relative search volume of 'global warming' and 'climate change' searches from 1 January 2004 to present both globally and in the US," the study's authors write, adding that they accounted for seasonal trends.

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There was a 'substantial increase' in queries for global warming in August 2006 that coincided with the release of 'An Inconvenient Truth', the popular climate change film by Al Gore. Since then, Google searches have been trending downward.

"Interestingly, Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Sandy do not appear as major events in US search volumes of climate terms, despite hurricanes receiving considerable media attention in this context," the author's say.

"We find no evidence that these declines are compensated for by an increase in relative search volumes for more specific search terms."

The authors speculate that two high-profile media events may have altered the public's opinion.

The first was the computer hacking scandal at the University of East Anglia which involved thousands of of private emails between climate scientists being published online in November 2009.

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The so-called 'climategate' called to question the practices of some professionals, although everyone involved was eventually cleared of wrongdoing.

The second event was the much-criticized IPCC Fourth Assessment Report on Himalayan glacier melt which contained a number of small errors. Scientists maintain the inconsistencies do not undermine the conclusions drawn in the report -- but these two events may have been enough to taint the public's opinion.

Still, the effect of these events is just part of the problem with the authors noting that interest was in decline and skepticism on an upswing before the events had occurred.

The complete paper can be found online at IOP Science.

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