From the Pew Research Center
No Denying the Heat of Global Warming Debate in the Blogosphere
Global warming has of late been a very hot topic in social media, and last week it was hotter than ever. Much of the added fuel came from climate change believers who engaged in the debate that had been dominated by skeptics.
From Dec. 7-11, more than half (52%) of the news links in blogs were about global warming, according to the New Media Index from the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism. That represents the most attention to the subject in any given week this year, and marks the third week in a row that global warming has been among the top four subjects in blogs. It was also prominent on Twitter last week, registering as the No. 3 topic with 14% of the news links.
And while mainstream media have generally covered the issue less than have social media, global warming filled 10% of the mainstream newshole last week, the highest level of coverage since PEJ’s News Coverage Index began tracking it in January 2007.
Over the past few weeks, the social media commentary has been led by climate change skeptics focused on “Climate-gate” — the hacked emails from a British research unit that raised the possibility of climate data manipulation. Skeptics claimed that the actions undermined the science behind global warming and de-legitimized the Copenhagen summit which began Dec. 7. Last week, many of the online commentators continued to voice doubts about global warming fueled by Washington Post op-eds by prominent conservatives and global warming skeptics George Will and Sarah Palin.
But there was a noticeable change in the social media debate last week as those who believe in the dangers of global warming increased their presence. These supporters criticized the emphasis placed on “Climate-gate” and applauded the Environmental Protection Agency’s decision to regulate greenhouse gases.
Following global warming, the rest of the leading stories in the blogosphere represented a wide range of topics.
An investigative report by USA Today revealing that the government’s standards for meat in school lunches were lower than those of most fast-food chain restaurants finished second with 9% of the links.
The subject of Iran finished third (at 9%), triggered by multiple stories including a Fox News report that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad accused the United States of trying to thwart the return of Mahdi, the Imam believed by Muslims to be the savior. Also in the mix was a BBC article about clashes between police forces and anti-government protestors in Tehran.
The fourth biggest storyline (at 7%) was a correction in the Washington Post which some found humorous. The paper acknowledged it had falsely identified a song from the rap group Public Enemy as “9/11 is a joke” instead of the actual title, “911 is a joke.” And a story about a bus crash involving the lead singer of the rock band Weezer finished fifth at 5%.
On Twitter last week, where technology stories usually dominate, Tiger Woods won the No. 1 spot with 18% of the news links.
Reports about the Dec. 7 call to 911 from Woods’ house and the ambulance that then took a woman (later identified as Woods’ mother-in-law Barbro Holmberg) to the hospital gained attention early in the week.
Receiving almost the same amount of attention was President Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech (2nd at 18%). Global warming was third at 14%, followed by a story about the privacy settings for Facebook at 9%. And a story about a battle won by a 90-year-old Virginia veteran to keep an American flag displayed in his yard finished fifth, at 7%.
Skeptics of man-made global warming continued to focus on the “Climate-gate” scandal as they have the previous few weeks. They were bolstered by columns from George Will and Sarah Palin questioning global warming science and the motives behind the forthcoming Copenhagen summit.
“The e-mails have popped the credibility bubble of what Roger Pielke Sr. of the University of Colorado, has called ‘the climate oligarchy'” wrote Teófilo de Jesús at Vivificat. “Suddenly I don’t think that I have all the facts, that the sober analysis of competing hypotheses has not taken place, that the global consensus often bandied about is a fallacy — a variation of ad populum argument — and that our nation cannot commit itself to irrevocable courses of actions based on compromised science.”
“The climate change … movement has gone way beyond reasonableness,” added Too Conservative. “The data scandal and burying of conflicting opinions that has recently come to light show that this is indeed more a cultish lemming movement than any scientific phenomenon….”
But Palin proved to be a lightning rod for some on the other side of the global warming debate, who criticized her op-ed piece and the Washington Post‘s decision to publish it.
“I cannot understand how a fringe, ignorant, conspiracy theory imbibing, secessionist is given space in the Washington Post to pen on issues she has no knowledge of, which happen to be the extreme-right wing scandal du jour,” responded Larisa Alexandrovna of at-Largely. “Amazing how anti-science advocates like Palin and her ilk suddenly want ‘trustworthy’ science, is it not?”
Some took aim at the Climate-gate controversy itself.
“An oft-repeated criticism of the theory of human influenced global warming researchers is that they use a small set of data to make predictions about a large phenomena,” wrote Cangrejero at The Midpoint. “The irony of a movement bent on denying all the work done by many scientists because of a few cherry-picked phrases from 1000 emails between colleagues is not lost on me.”
And others applauded the announcement that the EPA was going to regulate greenhouse gases as a threat to human health.
“Finally,” exclaimed James Rowen at The Political Environment. “After years of benign neglect and outright opposition from the Bush administration, the Federal government, taking its cues from a conservative Supreme Court, is finally stepping up to regulate carbon dioxide and other greenhouse emissions.”
The issue of global warming went beyond the blogs as many Twitter users linked to related articles. Palin’s piece was of particular interest to both those who agreed and disagreed with her.
Supporters of the Copenhagen conference were also interested in a page on the site creativebits.org that displayed many innovative advertisements from around the world promoting the cause of fighting global warming.
“We can all save the world. exquisite ads to raise awareness,” tweeted Valentina Wahyu.