While climate change is a global problem, public climate interest can vary from nation to nation. Last year, more events fuelled the climate debate. In April 2019, it was reported that 80% of the British public are now “fairly” or “very” concerned about climate change. This is the highest it has ever been.
At The Solar Centre, we wanted to understand what was causing British people to take interest in the climate change debate at different points of the year. Our aim from this research was to find out what type of event (climate protest, celebrity campaigning or climate emergencies etc.) was the most influential in getting the public to take notice of the ecological crisis.
We collected data from Google Trends to find the points of the year with the highest search interest for “climate change”. After this, we managed to find the most popular news story that occurred at that specific time by using Google News’ custom date function.
Below we can see which events caused an increase in search at different points across 2019.
Once stories were successfully attributed to a point in time, we worked out each media event’s impact on search popularity by subtracting its total popularity score from the previous period. In occasions where there were multiple stories in a certain time frame, hence multiple stories could be responsible for a surge in interest, we divided the percentage search increase by the total number of events in that time frame.
It is evident that the most crucial event of 2019, in the public climate change debate, was Greta Thunberg’s “Fridays For Future” protest on 20th September. This alone increased search popularity for “climate change” by 68%. While there had been several “Fridays For Future” protests prior to this, the September protest proved to be the largest. Over 4 million people participated worldwide. Amazon employees were so inspired by Greta, that around 1,500 Amazon workers walked out of work to protest Jeff Bezos’ “Shipment Zero”, a pledge to be carbon neutral by 2040, as not strong enough.
Climate Change – The Facts by David Attenborough also had a considerable impact with a 59% rise in search popularity when it aired on the 18th of April.
What Type of Event Engages The Public?
Climate protests were the most influential type of event. This was followed by factual evidence. However, without David Attenborough’s Climate Change – The Facts, factual evidence would have considerably less impact. Both protests and factual evidence seem much more influential than any conference, political debate and/or climate summit.
Worryingly, climate emergencies (including those that happened in Brazil and Australia) had limited impact. Celebrity campaigning had some impact on raising popularity. Notably, the 1975 releasing a song with Greta Thunberg and Coldplay deciding against touring their new album globally. Similarly, the most effective Extinction Rebellion protest was when celebrities joined in. For this particular rally of protests, there were some high-profile arrests, including Jane Fonda.
Which Individuals Are The Most Influential?
On the individual front, the three most influential people were:
- Greta Thunberg – 116.5% increase in climate change interest (including here indirect involvement in the Youth Strike 4 Climate strikes)
- David Attenborough – 59% increase in climate change search popularity
- Donald Trump – 34% increase in climate change search interest
While Trump may have skewed public opinion in an anti-environmentalist direction, this is yet to be determined. However, what is clear is that his anti-environmentalist views were effective in leading people to research the facts themselves.
David Attenborough, on the other hand, is continuing his programming work with his new feature-length documentary “A Life On Our Planet” debuting at the Royal Albert Hall on April 16th. His campaigns are seemingly getting tougher, with an agenda of introducing a “one-child policy” and openly criticising parliament of not prioritising climate change
Last but certainly not least, Greta Thunberg had an incredible year and it looks unlikely to stop in 2020 with the recent news that she is set to trademark her name and the #FridaysForFuture movement to stop people from impersonating her.