I was fooling around with Google Trends the other day and uncovered a couple of developments in how interest in climate change has changed. Google Trends is a free tool often used by writers, marketers, and academics to show, when, where and how often a Google search is made. Graphs are generated which show the relative frequency that a search is made, Each search generates a new graph with the value of 100 at the time of the highest volume. All other smaller values are relative to the peak. It should also be mentioned that the search terms are language specific, meaning that terms are not translated into other languages—which would be awesome (if you’re a computer programmer, get on this ok?)
The first term I searched for was “climate change” (figure 1) which showed that worldwide googlers’ interest in climate change between 2004 and 2012. The first thing that surprised me was that there doesn’t seem to be a seasonal difference in either the global or US frequency of the term. I would have thought that hot summers increase interest, but in fact November 2010 was the peak time for the search. The second issue that surprised me was that even during the impact of the 2008 financial crisis interest in climate change remained high, but interest crashed considerably after the peak.
The maps below for the same Google search indicate that interest in “climate change” has changed considerably. In 2004, interest in climate change mostly came from wealthy (English speaking) Western countries (figure 2), whereas more recently it’s internet users in the developing world, most notably in Africa and Southeast Asia which are feeling the impacts of global warming (figure 3) that are more likely to Google “climate change”. However it should be noted that, of course, there has been a larger expansion in Googlers in the developing world than the developed.
At the US national level there have been similar changes in geographical interest in climate change. Surprisingly, changes in the interest in climate change as measured by Google trends once mirrored the politics of those states with more Democratic leaning states having more interest, but this too has changed since 2004 as shown in following figures show. However, there is interest in climate change has occurred in heavily Republican states from Utah and Arizona in the west to the Carolinas in the South despite an increasingly climate change denying politics on the political right. Given the shifting interest in climate change will there be a similar change in the politics? We’ll see.