The Decade That Matters

Climate conversations: the last decade


    This report represents ten years of digital data, encapsulating 1.3 trillion public documents in an effort to survey the conversational landscape around climate change and renewable energy.

    The result is an exploration of how our online conversations and publications belie, and can predict, an ever-shifting landscape in public perception and environmental action – on an individual, corporate, national and global level.

    About this report

    How have our climate conversations changed? How are attitudes shifting? To find out, we have pored over a decade of data, looking at specifics around the broad themes of climate change, global warming, and renewable energy. 

    Utilising a suite of digital tools, we have explored 10-year trends across platforms, channels and mediums globally. And, to get a clearer view of the rapidity of change, we have also undertaken a more specific investigation into the conversations from 2018 to 2020.  

    Data sources consulted:

    • 10 years of consumer insight data indexed by digital consumer intelligence platform Brandwatch, the largest archive of consumer opinions (delivering access to over 1.3 trillion public documents – and inclusive of the full firehose of data from Twitter, Reddit and Tumblr for time covered).
    • Trend data from Google comprising all queries entered into the search engine platform reaching back to 2010, with additional volume and monthly average search figures produced via Ahrefs. 
    • In mapping digital behaviour to environmental phenomena, we have retrieved data from the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

    Read the full methodology here

    Volume and growth

    It will come as no surprise that the overall volume of discussion around climate change has grown enormously in the past ten years.

    Climate change topics have continued to trend upwards from 2010 to 2020, with a huge peak in discussions happening in September 2019 – coinciding with fires tearing through the Amazon rainforest, climate crisis talks at the G7, and reports of record temperatures around the world.

    In fact, the overall volume of conversations around ‘climate change’ grew by 110% in 2019 when compared to 2018 (from 18 million mentions to 38 million mentions), with the term itself generating an average of 3.16 million global monthly mentions across blogs, forums, social networks and news sites in 2019. By way of a benchmark, mentions in online conversations around US President Donald Trump – a mainstay topic for social media over the past five years – increased from 355 million to 371 million in that same timeframe, a 4.5% increase only.

    What is encouraging, however, is that we also see growth in discussion across the breadth of the internet around more niche areas of the conversation – showing us that people are thinking practically. Terms like ‘green energy supplier’ and ‘Net Zero emissions’ have trended upwards throughout the past decade, and specifically in the last few years. 

    Carbon-related conversations (zero, neutral, etc.) are also growing – up 133% in 2019 compared to 2018, and up a further 26% in 2020.

    Similarly, mentions of ‘clean energy’ and ‘renewable energy’ have grown from under one million per month in 2010, to as many as six million per month in 2019.

    This indicates a shift in mindset towards a more responsible way of thinking, or at least an interest in topics that move in this direction. As we become more aware of environmental threats, online discussion around ways individuals can make a difference is growing.

    Topic evolution

    One phrase that has not grown in volume in quite the same way, however, is ‘global warming’.

    While its conversational mentions have seen upward spikes alongside similar phraseology, overall searches have tailed off. This suggests a decade-long transformation in the focus of public consciousness: a recession in total conversation around ‘global warming’ (which describes an increase in global temperature) in parallel to an increase in mentions of ‘climate change’ and, more recently, ‘climate crisis’ (concepts which include temperature, but also encompass changes in global precipitation volume, wind patterns and other climate factors). 

    But there is more to this trend than branding. As we saw with the changes in conversation volume, there is also a skew towards the practical in terms of topic. This is what we see over the past ten years where core conversational topics are shown alongside commonly linked phrases and words.

    The introduction of active word use (we also recorded a growth in phrases search terms such as ‘take action’, ‘telling’, ‘coming’ and ‘getting’) shows a world that’s increasingly thinking with proactivity and specific causes in mind, replacing the more general and vague warning of ‘global warming’ as an abstract concept. 

    This can be seen as a reaction to increased opportunities for consumers and businesses in the eco-friendly space, impactful campaigning from the likes of Greta Thunberg and, unfortunately, real world effects of climate change making themselves apparent, as with fires in Australia, the Western US, and the Amazon rainforest. 

    Channels and media

    Over the past decade, Twitter has grown to be one of the most popular platforms for discussing the climate and climate-related issues. where mentions of related vocabulary outstrip news sites, Reddit, YouTube and other forums by millions.

    Mentions around renewable energy from news media have been on an upward growth – up 700% versus 2010, with notably huge upticks occurring at the end of 2017 (when conversation focussed on President Trump's decision to pull the USA out of the Paris Accord) and across late-2019 and early 2020 (when a number of catastrophes caught the public’s attention: melting ice in Greenland, the Amazon Rainforest wildfires, bushfire season in Australia, concerns around intensifying hurricanes in the United States, and record-breaking warm months in November and December across the northern hemisphere).

    While historical data (specifically trends over time) cannot be ascertained directly from Instagram, we are able to look at total hashtag usage on the platform. Since its launch in 2010 there have been over 16 million total mentions of hashtags around climate change. #ClimateChange is the most popular hashtag of all those assessed, having been used over four million times (with #GlobalWarming being used 1.7 million times). 

    The explosive rise in popularity of Instagram over the past couple of years – having gone from niche photo sharing app in the first half of the decade to over one billion monthly active users by 2020 – appears to be reflected by the nature of those trending hashtags: #FridaysForFuture, for example, is a conversational marker that gained global relevance only in mid-2019. 

    Whilst peaks and troughs in conversation will appear most obviously on Twitter (where we have access to all historical data, and 500 million words are published per day) this does invite reflection on the relative demographic make-up of each platform’s users.

    By looking at average user data by channels, a story emerges. Assessing the profile demographics of 65 million Twitter users, for example, shows that 57% are male and 43% female. Of these, 31% are based in the USA, with Brazil (10%) and the UK (8%) completing the top three nations from a monthly active user perspective. Instagram, however, skews female (51% of Instagram users are female versus 49% male as of January 2020) with only 11% of its monthly active users residing in the USA. 

    Independent research from Yale suggests that women have higher risk perception around climate change, and tend to be more concerned with environmental subjects in general than men. Knowing what we do about the demographic split, we may see the volume of climate change conversations on Instagram increasing at an even faster rate than we have seen on Twitter over the past decade.
    Reddit (330 million monthly active users with a majority US user base) and YouTube (two billion monthly active users from across the globe) complete the suite of platforms and channels that have been analysed. 

    Analysis of the demographics engaged actively in climate change conversations follows in section four of this report.


    Climate-related issues are clearly hot button ones. Across all the online discussions we have tracked, only 8% skew positive in terms of sentiment, against 31% negative and 61% neutral (compared to e.g. ‘football/soccer’ at 11% positive, 9% negative and 80% neutral; or ‘Trump’ at 23% positive, 39% negative, and 38% neutral). 

    This tends to manifest as anger against both corporations and government leaders, and fear for the environment – spiked by climate events that are increasingly more severe in their messaging on the impact on society and wildlife.

    The positives in the conversation lie in topics to do with people, rather than government or corporations, suggesting a consensus that blame and/or responsibility is being laid at the feet of institutions rather than individuals.

    When we shift and look at conversations around carbon neutrality and carbon footprints, things appear more positive as a ratio: 14% vs 22% negative. 

    We believe this can, at least in part, be attributed to a boom in tangible ways to help being provided by corporations and adopted by consumers – where associated words like ‘energy’, ‘cars’ and ‘buying’ help paint a picture of a more widespread shift towards eco-friendly living.

    This kind of ground-level, human-driven change can also be seen in the growth of online initiatives that ask people to share how climate change is affecting their lives. 

    For example, the #ShowYourStripes movement asks people to share the changes in their local temperature over time as uniquely stylised graphics. It garners overwhelmingly positive sentiment globally (19% positive to 2% negative) and has appeared in over 78,000 tweets, leading to more than 387,000,000 total impressions.