5-year comparison of public news media interest in climate change and economy

Politicians trying to secure a job in Canada’s current federal election are dancing on a hot stove with one foot addressing climate change and the other foot promising help on a very uncertain economy. The graph below shows why this painful political spectacle is necessary. The line courtesy of a Google Trends’ algorithm shows to what degree the Canadian public has over the past five years searched the web for information about the economy versus climate change.

5x yr NEW econ climate ext reb changes media

What the line graph shows is the weighted index out of 100 of how one internet search item stacks up against other search items when it comes to overall news media searches. In this case news about the economy (blue line), versus news about climate change (green line), versus recent news about the Extinction Rebellion protests calling for government to do something about the horrors of climate change (red line).

Year after year the economy including things like interest rates, the safety of jobs, the cost of housing and numerous other dollars and cents issues that people can easily relate to on a very personal basis has outperformed climate change as a topic of news media interest. Until just recently. The graph clearly shows that the massive news coverage about the Extinction Rebellion (red line) dramatically drove upward public interest in climate change although it was already showing growth.

It won’t last. It’s not that the public will forget about the dangers of climate change, it’s simply that the topic is too multi-faceted and mushy to get really fearful and angry about. And that’s what creates change. If you feel fearful about the impact of a clear and simple immediate issue on your personal life including health and safety and feeding your family within an affordable home then you get angry. When you are fearful and angry about something easy to understand that hits you in the face, then you are motivated to take action. Like voting in a fedeeral election.

Sorry, but climate change has yet to be a topic that truly brings fear into the bones of a majority of people. Yes, there are pockets of vivid and visible example like floods and major forest fires and helpless polar bears. But climate change is an argument riddled with scientific  jargon, talk of “carbon tax” and a blizzard of what to many are a multitude of vague metrics and seemingly distant, amorphous disasters.

You will see the results of this come election time. Gut-level issues like taxes, jobs, pensions, and debt are things that we visualize immediately in a very simple and tangible and often scary way. Climate change, despite its very real urgency, has yet to leave the communication vocabulary of scientists, irritating bridge-protesters, activated students, and those “informed intelligensia” who leave others feeling uncomfortably guilty about their priority of having a job and home.

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