Unemployment Vs. Global Warming

Is “thinking green” an economic luxury? Intuition implies that it may be, but so far there’s been little empirical evidence on the subject. Two economists recently changed that: using data from Google keyword searches between 2004 and 2010,?Matthew E. Kahn and Matthew J. Kotchen found that “higher unemployment rates within a state decrease internet search activity for global warming, but increase search activity for unemployment. Based on this revealed preference for interest in global warming, therefore, it appears that recessions crowd out concern for the environment…” The authors also used recent survey data to analyze the link between unemployment and climate-change denial, concluding that “an increase in a state’s unemployment rate is associated with a decrease in the probability that residents think global warming is happening, and with a reduction in the certainty of those who think it is. Higher unemployment rates are also associated with views that we should do less with respect to policies designed to reduce global warming.” [%comments]

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  1. Sebastian Good says:

    This is hardly surprising given the strident and explicit connection the media makes between global warming and economic harm. I’m not sure this indicates independent thinking so much as the fact that the unemployed may simply have more time to bask in the ignorance peddled 24/7 on radio and TV.

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  2. Brett says:

    Is correlation vs causality not discussed with these people? Or do they just realize that claims like this will get their work posted on the Freakonomics blog?

    Just because unemployment has gone up and global warming concerns have gone down doesn’t mean that one caused the other. It’s more likely, in my opinion, that the spike seen in 2007 was the great interest people had in the subject, causing them to learn more about the subject, and realize the truth that man-made global warming is bunk.

    I know that of all of my friends/family, it’s been education regarding global warming that was increasing skepticism well before unemployment and recession were hot topics.

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  3. Ian Kemmish says:

    It should be no great surprise that contemplating a major lifestyle change is something you defer when you’re worried about your job.

    But I’ve been living frugally all my life and using CFLs for more than fifteen years, yet I’ve never typed “global warming” into a search engine, so one needs to be clear what, precisely, is being measured. People who are already “thinking green” won’t be showing up in a survey of search terms, only people who are thinking about _going_ green.

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  4. Eric M. Jones says:

    “higher unemployment rates within a state decrease internet search activity for global warming, but increase search activity for unemployment. Based on this revealed preference for interest in global warming, therefore, it appears that recessions crowd out concern for the environment…”

    Post hoc ergo propter hoc: also known as false cause, coincidental correlation or correlation not causation. (Wiki)

    I don’t doubt that using search terms is a new way to get information, but one must be cautious:

    “higher unemployment rates within a state decrease internet search activity for global warming,…” —-Many who search for GW info are school kids writing reports. But even so, since GW interest maybe on the downswing, but interest in the economy is; how does this make sense?

    “but increase search activity for unemployment.”—”Unemployment”? Who searches Google for “unemployment”?

    “Based on this revealed preference for interest in global warming, therefore, it appears that recessions crowd out concern for the environment…”—Or maybe this is just a meaningless pairing. I’ll bet the glaciers receding correlate nicely with the declining Google interest in Britney Spears.

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  5. bill.r says:

    well i guesse you can,t blame them for there concern about personal survival over whats good for the environment
    when it really comes down though if things there predicting come true and they already are masses of us will be dead and still not care about the environment

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  6. Geoff from Ohio says:

    Haven’t you heard? Correlation in no way proves causation.

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  7. JohnJ says:

    There’s little empirical evidence? Jack Hollander pointed this out in his 2003 book “The Real Environmental Crisis”.

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  8. Matt says:

    Leaving aside correlation versus causation, as pointed out by other commentors, I suppose it would have to depend on how you define “economic luxury”. The unstated assumption in this post is that being green hurts the economy. The reality is that being green exchanges a a small short-term cost for a large long-term cost. People choose to avoid the small short-term cost because the large long-term cost is being imposed on somebody else in the future.

    Put more simply, if you’re in your 60s and unemployed now, there’s not a lot of incentive for you to care if Shanghai is underwater by the time people my age hit retirement.

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