Online Seminar Talk

A Hot Topic in Hot Times: Studying the Dynamics of Public Attention and Media Coverage of Climate Change

Silvia Pianta
Laboratory of Digital and Computational Demography, March 22, 2022

Silvia Pianta from the European University Institute in Florence presented two studies assessing the dynamics of public attention and media coverage of climate change.

Authors and Institutions

Silvia Pianta, European University Institute, Florence; RFF-CMCC European Institute on Economics and the Environment, Milan

Matthew R. Sisco, Princeton University, Princeton; Columbia University, New York

Elke U. Weber, Princeton University, Princeton

Valentina Bosetti, Bocconi University, Milan


We present two studies assessing the dynamics of public attention and media coverage of climate change. In study 1, we analyze a comprehensive dataset representing more than 1.7 million online news articles covering climate change in the 28 countries of the European Union in 22 different languages for the period 2014–2019. We combine our news dataset with observed temperature data to investigate whether and how temperature abnormalities influence media coverage of climate change. We find that the strongest determinants of media coverage are positive deviations from short-term average temperatures, suggesting that the media are less influenced by scientific accounts of climatic changes than by shorter-term changes in weather patterns.  In study 2, we analyze internet search activity in 46 countries from 2015 through 2019. We analyze the impact of global climate marches on internet search activity and find that climate activist events are powerful drivers of attention, even in comparison with political events like the United Nations Climate Change Conferences. We quantify the duration of the increases in information seeking produced by these events, finding that they are short-lived, with attention only staying above pre-event levels for several days. As public attention can importantly shape policy decisions, these results call for further research focusing on the impacts of climate activist events.


Silvia Pianta is a Max Weber Postdoctoral Fellow at the European University Institute and a Part-time Postdoctoral Researcher at the RFF-CMCC European Institute on Economics and the Environment.

Silvia’s research focuses on environmental policy and politics. In her work, she combines insights from social, political, and behavioral sciences to study environmental attitudes and behaviors, climate policy preferences, public attention to climate change, and the impact of environmental change on political behavior. She also works on the incorporation of insights from social and political science in the modeling of long-term climate mitigation pathways.

Silvia holds a Ph.D. in Public Policy from Bocconi University and was a Visiting Student Research Collaborator at the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs from February to August 2018.

The Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research (MPIDR) in Rostock is one of the leading demographic research centers in the world. It's part of the Max Planck Society, the internationally renowned German research society.