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Cap-and-trade versus carbon taxes: which market mechanism gets the most attention?


In the debate between carbon taxes and cap-and-trade as a policy response to curbing greenhouse gas emissions, which market-based policy tool tends to garner the most (favorable) media attention? Furthermore, what is the public coverage like of topics such as trade, energy prices, and economic growth and green jobs? Understanding the media’s response to market-based policy mechanisms is important for understanding their ultimate acceptance, or rejection, beyond the academic sphere. One interesting result from this research is that cap-and-trade wins hands down over carbon taxes—it received more, and more positive, media attention in the US in the 22-year time period under study.

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  1. Sentiment analysis is a computational process that identifies sentiment in a piece of text, in particular, whether the tone of the writing is on balance positive, negative, or neutral.

  2. As ranked by the PewResearch Center (, Refdesk (, Cision (, and Wikipedia ( These five newspapers are also the same newspapers used in the Kahn and Kotchen (2011) study, and many other media-related academic studies.

  3. We searched LexisNexis for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and The Washington Post, and ProQuest Newsstand Database for the Los Angeles Times. The search for the terms was “anywhere” in the article, not just the title or headline.

  4. A consistency check was performed, with the empirics in the following section run on the full observation set, as well as with the first week of data withheld, and the results showed consistency across both sets of data.

  5. Note that certain articles were not included in this final observation set, including wedding announcements, calendars, horoscopes, obituaries, TV listings, book listings, cartoons, and photo/video articles. A full listing—for each newspaper—of downloads not included in the final observation set is available from the author upon request.

  6. This was the year the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009, which included a federal cap-and-trade provision, came up in Congress.

  7. Note that in the wider media corpus, which includes everything the media covers in its totality, from entertainment news to sports coverage to local trends, climate change is, admittedly, a small piece of the pie.

  8. It has been suggested that the Los Angeles Times’ delayed discussion of cap-and-trade may be a result of that paper’s local focus, and its tendency to publish articles on local responses to matters that have already been pushed at the federal level, such as The American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009.

  9. Other text analyses articles that utilize sentiment analysis include Fogarty et al. (2018), Gentzkow and Shapiro (2010), Tetlock (2007), and Laver et al. (2003).

  10. Detailed information on the LSD can be found at: and As is customary, it was edited to conform to the particular context—in this case, climate change. The word “warming,” for example, is coded as a positive marker in the base LSD; we made it neutral. Other changes we made are available from the author upon request.

  11. The lists of specific words and phrases chosen to represent these categories are available by request from the author.

  12. Results available from the author upon request. As a reviewer pointed out, it is possible this is a result of stories being drawn from similar sources, i.e., from Reuters or the AP.

  13. Only in 1996 and 2002 did a global warming question not from Gallup have to be used (in 1996 the results came from a Sustainable Energy Coalition survey, and in 2002, they were from a Chicago Council on Foreign Relations survey). In both of these instances, while the conducting organization changed, the wording of the global warming question asked remained remarkably similar.

  14. These data were all downloaded from FRED (Federal Reserve Economic Data), as maintained by the St. Louis Federal Reserve bank (

  15. It might be worthwhile in future research to investigate if similar disparities in attention exist in other forms of popular media, including television and video.


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Correspondence to Lea-Rachel Kosnik.

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Kosnik, LR. Cap-and-trade versus carbon taxes: which market mechanism gets the most attention?. Climatic Change 151, 605–618 (2018).

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