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Americans don't believe in global warming. The reason is Donald Trump

Americans don't believe in global warming. The reason is Donald Trump

Image source: © Justin Sullivan / Getty Images
Weronika Paliczka,
19.02.2024 15:45

A recent study conducted by researchers in the US has revealed that almost 15% of Americans do not believe in climate change. The study involved analysing social media posts related to global warming.

Social media can be both beneficial and harmful. While it makes it easier to share information, it also exposes people to false content. For a long time, experts have cautioned against using artificial intelligence to create deepfake, which refers to false information or images almost identical to the real thing. Recently, celebrities like Taylor Swift have been targeted by deepfake creators.

US scientists examine public knowledge on climate change

A team of researchers from the University of Michigan conducted a study on the impact of social media content related to global warming and climate change on Americans. The study focused on data collected between 2017 and 2019 to analyse how social media affects the spread of information on climate change denial. The researchers also attempted to estimate Americans' belief level in climate change.

During the study, the researchers identified the key influencers who spread the message of climate change denial. At the top of the list was Donald Trump, the former US president and businessman, who has been known for his sceptical approach towards climate change and environmentalism.

"Prior to the advancement of AI and social media data, this work relied on expensive and time-consuming surveys," said study senior Joshua Newell, professor and co-director of the Centre for Sustainable Systems at U-M's School for Environment and Sustainability.

Artificial intelligence helping scientists

Researchers at the University of Michigan used artificial intelligence to classify more than 7.4 million posts on X as being 'for' or 'against' climate change. The researchers then determined the typical profile of a person who does not believe in global warming.

The researchers' study found that 14.8% of Americans deny climate change. The highest percentage of people who doubt environmental problems reside in the central and southern parts of the country, specifically the states of Oklahoma, Mississippi, Alabama and North Dakota. On the other hand, the largest number of climate change believers reside on the East Coast and the West Coast.

Political affiliation determines belief in climate change

Researchers have found that an individual's political affiliation significantly impacts their attitudes towards climate issues. The study shows that a high percentage of Republican voters are more likely to deny the existence of climate change. Additionally, researchers at the University of Michigan have observed a strong correlation between climate change denial and low vaccination rates for Covid-19. The findings suggest that climate change scepticism may be due to a high degree of mistrust in science. The study also highlights the role of factors such as education or income level in influencing an individual's belief in climate change.

"What this indicates is that communities with a high prevalence of climate change deniers are at risk of discounting other science-based health or safety recommendations," said study lead author Dimitrios Gounaridis, a research fellow at U-M’s Center for Sustainable Systems.

"During the 2017-2019 study period, the most heavily retweeted post includes one by Trump that questions climate change due to unusually cold weather in the U.S., and another where he casts doubt on a U.N. climate report," Joshua Newell added. "In almost half of the tweets analysed, the most common refrain was that ‘climate change was not real.' What is scary and somewhat disheartening is how divided the worlds are between climate change belief and denial."

Newell also referred to Donald Trump's impact beyond social media.

"The respective X echo chambers have little communication and interaction between them. Influencers like Trump are creating their own echo chambers outside of X, which in many ways is even more concerning," he said. "People tend to selectively credit or discredit evidence based on their beliefs, which is how fake experts come to serve as credible messengers."

The researcher continued: "This is the basis of the theory of identity-protective cognition, which helps explain, for example, why Republican voters are more likely to believe tweets from Trump on climate change rather than other, more reliable sources—it is identity-affirming."

Will the study affect the future of social media?

Joshua Newell also explained the essence of the survey conducted.

"The information revealed in this study provides a basis for developing strategies to counter this knowledge vulnerability and reduce the spread of mis- or disinformation by identifying the communities most at risk of not adopting measures to increase resilience to the effects of climate change," Newell said. "We learned that a relatively small number of individuals are highly influential in spreading misinformation about climate change.

"Social media companies have banned users for this type of behaviour in the past, and for other topics, such as when then-Twitter banned Trump because of tweets maintaining election fraud and supporting the U.S. Capitol attack on Jan. 6 (his account has since been restored). For the safety of others, these companies should consider developing similar policies to limit the spread of climate change misinformation," he stressed.

Source: Interia, University of Michigan

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