Extreme weather prompting Google searches on climate change



A study analysing search patterns on Google has found people look up more information on climate change after periods of unusual or severe weather. It is suggested this can be further linked to political views and education.

In a study due to be published in the journal Climatic Change this week, lead researcher Corey Lang from the University of Rhode found people are connecting with and thinking about climate change on a regular basis.

Lang used Google Trends to collect data on how often people searched for terms like ‘global warming’, ‘climate change’ and ‘weather’. He also searched for terms linked with climate change, such as ‘drought’ and ‘flood’.

Monthly statistics were collected from Jan 2004 to May 2013 and these were matched with local weather data and presidential election results.

Lang collected data that showed when and where people searched in 205 cities in the US. From this he could see two main trends. Republicans and those from less educated areas searched for information on climate change during extreme weather and Democrats and those from well educated areas searched when there were changes in average temperatures.

“When it’s just a warmer than usual month, more Democratic and well educated areas are picking up on that signal, but it’s a spike in temperature over one or more days that Republican and less-educated areas are keying in to climate change,” Lang said.

“It may suggest that different types of people have different perceptions of what kind of weather defines climate change.”

Searches weren’t always linked to weather patterns known to be caused by climate change. The study thought this could be because people wanted to learn more about climate change or it may be because some people wanted to confirm their sceptical beliefs.

Lang concluded it is ultimately difficult to draw conclusions as to why people searched for these terms, but said it is good news that people are seeking information about climate change and relating it to events going on around them.

Photo: Anthony Quintano via Flickr

Further reading:

Climate change damages in the EU could amount to €190bn – study

US already seeing impact of climate change, warns major new report

Lord Stern’s climate change warning: warmer and wetter UK ‘not a coincidence’

Baseline for ‘normal’ weather needs to be updated due to climate change, says UN agency

Global warming: May 2014 hottest month on record, says Noaa


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