When do extreme weather events generate attention to climate change?
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We analyzed the effects of 10,748 weather events on attention to climate change between December 2011 and November 2014 in local areas across the USA. Attention was gauged by quantifying the relative increase in Twitter messages about climate change in the local area around the time of each event. Coastal floods, droughts, wildfires, strong wind, hail, excessive heat, extreme cold, and heavy snow events all had detectable effects. Attention was reliably higher directly after events began, compared to directly before. Financial damage associated with the weather events had a positive and significant effect on attention, although the effect was small. The abnormality of each weather event’s occurrence compared to local historical activity was also a significant predictor. In particular and in line with past research, relative abnormalities in temperature (local warming) generated attention to climate change. In contrast, wind speed was predictive of attention to climate change in absolute levels. These results can be useful to predict short-term attention to climate change for strategic climate communications and to better forecast long-term climate policy support.
KeywordsClimate attention Social media Extreme weather
The research leading to these results received funding from the European Research Council under the European Community’s Programme “Ideas”—Call identifier: ERC-2013-StG/ERC grant agreement no. 336703—project RISICO “Risk and uncertainty in developing and implementing climate change policies.” Funding was also provided under the cooperative agreement NSF SES-0951516 awarded to the Center for Research on Environmental Decisions. Funding and training for the first author was also provided by the From Data to Solutions IGERT program NSF-1144854. We thank Andrei Kirilenko for helping us access additional public Twitter messages in our time range.
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