Internet coverage

In January 2007, following a report by the United Nations, global warming ranked in the top 5 percent of news stories for the first time. In addition to traditional news sources, technology has significantly increased the number of options for obtaining news and information. Among these options are blogs, online journals that are frequently updated and published in reverse chronological order. Blogs have been in existence since the late 1990s. Numbers suggest that each day, more than 12 million American adults contribute to blogs, and more than 7 million Americans read them. In a situation that parallels other news media formats, however, much of the content is not original, less than 5 percent in the case of blogs.

In 2004, blogs became increasingly commonplace. In an effort to combat the failure of the media to effectively cover the common consensus about global warming shared by scientists worldwide, nine climate scientists launched RealClimate in December 2004. RealClimate was designed as a climate science site by working climate scientists for journalists and members of the public. The site has won a number of awards, including a 2005 Science & Technology Web Award by Scientific American, and recognition by the Guardian Unlimited as a Top 10 Environmental Site. The scientists' goal is to provide rapid rebuttals to distortions about climate change, often made by American-based, industry-sponsored think tanks.

Music Television (MTV) generated interest in global warming by implementing a yearlong, daily public service announcement campaign, "Break the Addiction," on Earth Day in 2006. The campaign included daily suggestions on changes viewers could make to lead more environmentally friendly lives, coupled with educational messages about the reasons for, and consequences of, climate change and the political context in which climate change issues are addressed.

Additionally, MTV included a monthly online segment featuring young people making a difference in environmental issues. MTV estimated nearly 90 million households had potential contact with the campaign each day, and one million people turned to www.think.mtv.com as an additional resource about global warming. In 2007, CNN News further demonstrated the significance of the internet on American politics by selecting those questions that would be used in a televised presidential debate from among almost 3,000 questions posted to YouTube, a videosharing website created in 2005, and ranked as one of the top sites in 2006, attracting close to 20 million visitors per month. An analysis of data by Hitwise, the leading online competitive intelligence service, found that online searches for environmental information increase alongside greater media coverage about environmental issues. During the most recent two-year period studied, online searches for information about global warming by internet users in the United Kingdom increased by 22 percent. Much of the online searching directed users to websites based in the United States, which suggests that U.S. sites potentially have greater influence on the public, and subsequently on policymaking, than do UK sites.

Paralleling earlier findings in the United Kingdom, Hitwise data indicated that Australian internet users visited former U.S. Vice President Al Gore's website at a significant rate when he was making media appearances in Australia in September 2006 to promote his documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, which later won the Academy Award for best documentary film. Hit-wise also determined that Australian internet users searching for climate change information are more likely to be redirected to media and government websites, while those searching for global warming tend to visit environmental and educational sites. The question raised by these data is whether or not climate change is now viewed as the more emotionally charged term, which, when thought to be more benign, was the term of choice by U.S. President George W. Bush, and, subsequently, viewed as representing the interests of industry and political conservatives.

In late 2006, ACNielsen, the world's leading marketing-information company, surveyed more than 25,000 internet users in almost 50 markets about global warming. Of those questioned, 91 percent were aware of global warming, and more than half considered global warming to be a critical issue. Internet users most aware and concerned about global warming were those from countries most affected by the consequences of climate change. The three countries that ranked the lowest in awareness were the United Arab Emirates, where 18 percent of consumers said they had not heard of global warming, followed by the United States, with 13 percent, and Malaysia with 11 percent. Latin Americans ranked with those consumers most likely to believe that global warming is the direct result of human activity, and the users from Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and Africa followed closely. Research suggests that greater media coverage and increased awareness by individuals, however, do not inevitably lead to changes in individual behavior.

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