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Despite overwhelming scientific consensus concerning anthropogenic climate change, many in the non-expert public perceive climate change as debated and contentious. There is concern that two recent high-profile media events—the hacking of the University of East Anglia emails and the Himalayan glacier melt rate presented in the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change—may have altered public opinion of climate change. While survey data is valuable for tracking public perception and opinion over time, including in response to climate-related media events, emerging methods that facilitate rapid assessment of spatial and temporal patterns in public interest and opinion could be exceptionally valuable for understanding and responding to these events’ effects. We use a novel, freelyavailable dataset of worldwide web search term volumes to assess temporal patterns of interest in climate change over the past ten years, with a particular focus on looking at indicators of climate change skepticism around the high-profile media events. We find that both around the world and in the US, the public searches for the issue as ‘global warming,’ rather than ‘climate change,’ and that search volumes have been declining since a 2007 peak. We observe high, but transient spikes of search terms indicating skepticism around the two media events, but find no evidence of effects lasting more than a few months. Our results indicate that while such media events are visible in the short-term, they have little effect on salience of skeptical climate search terms on longer time-scales.


This article was originally published in Environmental Research Letters, volume 9, in 2014. DOI: 10.1088/1748-9326/9/5/054005


IOP Publishing

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.



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