Tue. Mar 28th, 2023

    When society worries about COVID, concerns about climate change subside

    Credit: Pixabay/CC0 public domain

    Global concerns such as epidemics, wars and disasters weigh on the minds of people around the world every decade. But could a dominant global problem like the COVID-19 pandemic cause people to neglect other pressing societal issues? A new study concludes that the answer is yes.

    Led by political scientists from Stony Brook University and published in: PNAS, the study analyzed nearly 19 million publicly available tweets from 2019 to 2021, and they consistently found that as the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths increased, there were fewer tweets about climate change. In addition, tweets about climate change during those periods are characterized by less fear, anger and negative sentiment on the subject.

    Oleg Smirnov, Ph.D., associate professor in the political science department at Stony Brook University and lead author, says the data from their study illustrates how the COVID-19 pandemic impacted the climate change discussion on Twitter. He and co-author Pei-Hsun Hsieh, a Ph.D. Political Science student, adopted Weber’s psychological theory of the “finite pool of worry,” which suggests that people avoid coping with multiple negative events at once. And their research findings “support the finite pool of worry hypothesis and imply that the pandemic is diverting public attention from the important problem of climate change mitigation.”

    They compared daily and weekly tweets regarding the status of the global pandemic over the course of the three years, with the aim of tweeting commentary and discussion about COVID-19 and climate change. Their results are based on regression analysis with many controls such as media coverage, natural disasters and political variables surrounding COVID-19 and climate change.

    Smirnov says that overall, the total number of tweets reporting “climate change” fell from about eight million in 2019 to 5.6 million in 2020, then dropped further to 5.3 million in 2021 as the pandemic continued and the worldwide number of deaths increased.

    “The numbers are striking, especially in 2021, as the decline in tweets happened, even with more Twitter users signing up in 2021, along with more climate catastrophes and more climate-related events in the news, such as more North Atlantic hurricanes and wildfires. in the United States,” adds Smirnov.

    This information led the researchers to conclude that the observed decline in the discussion of climate change on Twitter over the time frame was not caused by the amount of media coverage of climate change, but rather the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths.

    The researchers collected tweets using Python libraries GetOldTweets3 and snscrape. They collected the total number of COVID-19 cases and deaths from information found in Our world in data.

    Smirnov and Hsieh conclude that because of their findings, “We emphasize that mitigating climate change may not seem important or at least urgent to the public and policymakers in the face of other global issues, such as the COVID-19 pandemic or major geopolitical crises.” … While the current global crises may be seen by policymakers as more urgent relative to the seemingly distant threat of climate change, the objective urgency of the problem remains the same.”

    Researchers use AI to analyze tweets about vaccination and climate change

    More information:
    Oleg Smirnov et al, COVID-19, Climate Change and the Finite Pool of Concerns in 2019 to 2021 Twitter Discussions, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (2022). DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2210988119

    Provided by Stony Brook University

    Quote: When society is concerned about COVID, concerns about climate change are easing (2022, October 19) retrieved October 19, 2022 from https://phys.org/news/2022-10-society-covid-climate-subside. html

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