Google searches reveal where people are most concerned about climate change


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A handy source of information about questions big and small.
TheDigitalWay/pixabay, CC BY

Carla Archibald, The University of Queensland and Nathalie Butt, The University of Queensland

What do you do if you have a question? You probably Google it.

According to Google Trends, in 2017 Australians were keen to know about tennis, Sophie Monk, fidget spinners and Bitcoin. But besides these arguably trivial queries, our Google searches also revealed our concerns about extreme weather events such as Cyclone Debbie, Hurricane Irma, and the Bali volcano.

Our research, published in the journal Climatic Change, suggests that Google search histories can be used as a “barometer of social awareness” to measure communities’ awareness of climate change, and their ability to adapt to it.

We found that Fiji, the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu share the highest levels of climate change awareness, according to their Google searches – as might be expected of island nations where climate change is a pressing reality. Australia is close behind, with a high level of public knowledge about climate change, despite the current lack of political action.




Read more:
Pacific islands are not passive victims of climate change, but will need help


Google searches are like a window into the questions and concerns that are playing on society’s collective mind. Search histories have been used to alert epidemiologists to ‘flu outbreaks (albeit with varying success) and to gauge how communities may respond to extreme weather events like hurricanes.

Googling for the climate.
search-engine-land/flickr

Talk of climate change action like “adaptation” often centres on well-known and at-risk places such as the Pacific Islands. As sea level rises, communities are forced to adapt by building sea walls or, in extreme cases, relocate.

Understanding how conscious communities are of the impacts of climate change is crucial to determining how willing they may be to adapt. So finding a way to rapidly gauge public awareness of climate change could help deliver funding and resources to areas that not only need it the most, but are also willing to take the action required.

In our research, we used Google search histories to measure the climate change awareness in different communities, and to show how awareness maps (like the one below) can help better target funding and resources.




Read more:
Google’s vast library reveals the rising tide of climate-related words in literature


OK Google, do I need to worry about the climate?

Google is asked more than 3.6 billion questions every day, some of which are about climate change. We looked at how many climate-related Google searches were made in 150 different countries, and ranked these countries from most to least aware of climate change.

Countries such as Fiji and Canada, which reported high rates of climate change Googling, were considered as having a high awareness of climate change.

World map of climate change awareness based on the relative volume of climate change related searches, and climate change vulnerability. Colours show the relationship between awareness and vulnerability: yellow, ‘high awareness, high risk’; orange, ‘low awareness, high risk’; dark purple, ‘high awareness, low risk’; light purple, ‘low awareness, low risk’.

We then divided countries into categories based on their climate awareness, their wealth, and their risk of climate change impacts (based on factors such as temperature, rainfall, and population density). All of these variables can influence communities’ ability to adapt to climate change.

This is a quick way to gauge how ready communities are to adapt to climate change, especially at a large global scale. For example, two countries in the “high awareness, high risk” category are Australia and the Solomon Islands, yet these two nations differ greatly in their financial resources. Australia has a large economy and should therefore be financing its own climate adaptation, whereas the Solomon Islands would be a candidate for international climate aid funding.

Destruction of Townsville, Australia after Tropical Cyclone Yasi.
Rob and Stephanie Levy/flickr

By looking at countries’ specific situations – not only in terms of their relative wealth but also their degree of public engagement with climate issues – we can not only improve the strategic delivery of climate change adaptation funding, but can also help to determine what type of approach may be best.

Challenges and opportunities

Of course, there are plenty of other ways to assess climate preparedness besides Google searches. What’s more, internet access is limited in many countries, which means Google search histories may be skewed towards the concerns of that country’s more affluent or urbanised citizens.

Climate change awareness has previously been measured using surveys and interviews. This approach provides plenty of detail, but is also painstaking and resource-intensive. Our big-data method may therefore be more helpful in making rapid, large-scale decisions about where and when to deliver climate adaptation funding.

Google search histories also don’t tell us about governments’ policy positions on climate issues. This is a notable concern in Australia, which has a high degree of public climate awareness, at least judging by Google searches, but also a history of political decisions that fail to deliver climate action.




Read more:
Lack of climate policy threatens to trip up Australian diplomacy this summit season


Amid the political impasse in much of the world, big data can help reveal how society feels about environmental issues at a grassroots level. This approach also provides an opportunity to link with other big data projects, such as Google’s new Environmental Insights Explorer and Data Set Search.

The untapped potential of big data to help shape policy in the future could provide hope for communities that are threatened by climate change.The Conversation

Carla Archibald, PhD Candidate, Conservation Science, The University of Queensland and Nathalie Butt, Postdoctoral Fellow, The University of Queensland

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Curious Kids: where do clouds come from and why do they have different shapes?



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Sometimes air goes up past the condensation level then falls back below the condensation level, then up, then below, again and again. This creates clouds that are stripy, often with lines between the clouds.
Robert Lawry/Author provided, Author provided

Robert Lawry, Australian Bureau of Meteorology

This is an article from Curious Kids, a series for children. The Conversation is asking kids to send in questions they’d like an expert to answer. All questions are welcome – serious, weird or wacky! You might also like the podcast Imagine This, a co-production between ABC KIDS listen and The Conversation, based on Curious Kids.


Where do clouds come from and why do they all have different shapes? – Ryan Potts, age 7, Canberra.


Hi Ryan, great question!

When it comes to understanding clouds, it helps first to understand water.

You know the water you drink out of a glass? That’s liquid water. There is also solid water, such as ice from the freezer or a slushy.

But water also exists as a gas. It’s called water vapour. You can’t can’t see, taste or feel this water but it’s everywhere. It’s all around you right now. Water vapour is in the air we breathe. When it’s warm and there is a lot of water vapour in the air, it can feel very sticky and sweaty.




Read more:
Curious Kids: Why do you blink when there is a sudden loud noise close by?


Now let’s go back to clouds.

For clouds to form, air needs to be cooled to a temperature at which the water vapour turns into liquid water. The best way to do this is to make the air rise, because the higher we go in the atmosphere the colder the temperature. There are many reasons air might lift, but one reason is because during the day the sun heats up the surfaces around us.

Imagine the oval near your school on a warm day. Starting in the morning the sun warms the surface of the oval and before too long the entire oval is warming up.

Warm air weighs less than cooler air. So a big bubble of warm air, filled with water vapour, slowly lifts off your school oval.

As the bubble of air (filled with water vapour) rises upwards, it starts to cool down. The higher it goes the cooler it gets.

Bubbles of warm air that have reached and passed beyond the condensation level.
Robert Lawry, Author provided

Eventually, well off the ground above your school, the bubble of air has cooled so much that the water vapour turns into liquid water. We call this point the condensation level. When the water vapour turns into tiny specks of liquid water, a cloud forms.

Clouds are simply liquid water: very, very small drops of liquid water. So small in fact, that they can be held up in the air by rising air currents.

Back on the school oval: the day keeps getting warmer, more and more bubbles of rising air race upwards, cooling as they rise. When these bubbles of air reach the condensation level, more cloud forms.

A fluffy, bumpy cloud, formed by rising warm air currents.
Robert Lawry, Author provided

Clouds formed by rising warm air currents are called “convection clouds”. Because of all the rising air coming up, these clouds can be bumpy on the top, sometimes producing very high thick clouds looking like cotton wool or cauliflower heads.



The Conversation, CC BY-ND

When air rises very slowly and gently over an area and reaches the condensation level you get a cloud that is very smooth looking, like this:

A smooth cloud.
Robert Lawry, Author provided

Sometimes air goes up past the condensation level then falls back below the condensation level, then up, then below, again and again. This creates clouds that are stripy, often with lines between the clouds.

The way the air moves creates all the different clouds we see.



The Conversation, CC BY-ND

All the grey clouds that you see contain liquid water. However, as we discussed earlier, water can also exist as a solid (ice). Clouds that are very high are extremely cold and may appear pure white. These clouds contain ice.

I used to wonder what it would feel like to touch a cloud. Would it be fluffy? Hard, soft, warm or cold?

Well, we don’t need to wonder. Because every time we see fog, we are looking at cloud.

Fog is simply air that has cooled to the point where the water vapour has turned into liquid water. That forms fog – which is really just a cloud on the ground.

So next time you see fog, go outside and touch a cloud!

Fog is really just cloud at ground level.
Robert Lawry, Author provided



Read more:
Curious Kids: Why don’t dogs live as long as humans?



Hello, curious kids! Have you got a question you’d like an expert to answer? Ask an adult to send your question to us. They can:

* Email your question to curiouskids@theconversation.edu.au

* Tell us on Twitter by tagging @ConversationEDU with the hashtag #curiouskids, or

* Tell us on Facebook


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Please tell us your name, age, and which city you live in. You can send an audio recording of your question too, if you want. Send as many questions as you like! We won’t be able to answer every question but we will do our best.The Conversation

Robert Lawry, Hydrologist, Australian Bureau of Meteorology

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.