Do weather fluctuations cause people to seek information about climate change?
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Learning about the causes and consequences of climate change can be an important avenue for supporting mitigation policy and efficient adaptation. This paper uses internet search activity data, a distinctly revealed preference approach, to examine if local weather fluctuations cause people to seek information about climate change. The results suggest that weather fluctuations do have an effect on climate change related search behavior, however not always in ways that are consistent with the projected impacts of climate change. While search activity increases with extreme heat in summer and extended periods of no rainfall and declines in extreme cold in winter, search activity also increases with colder winter and spring average temperatures. Some of the surprising results are magnified when heterogeneity by political ideology and educational attainment in responsiveness is modeled, which could suggest that different people have different perceptions about what types of weather define climate change or that climate science deniers seek information through Google. However, the results also indicate that for all groups in the political and educational spectrum, there exist weather events consistent with the predicted impacts of climate change that elicit increased information seeking.
KeywordsClimate Change Global Warming Political Ideology Search Activity Extreme Heat
I thank Laura Bakkensen, Carrie Gill, Sarah Jacobson, Jesse Tack, seminar participants at Clark University and the 2013 NAREA conference, and three anonymous referees for valuable comments. George Sfinarolakis and David Ryder are thanked for research assistance. This paper is a contribution of the Rhode Island Agricultural Experiment Station (#5362).
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