A big data analysis revealed that Leonardo DiCaprio’s Academy Award acceptance speech in which he called everybody’s attention towards the imminent danger of climate change provoked massive ripples on the internet. The study found DiCaprio, who was followed by 34 million people that night watching the Oscars, generated far more interest on the internet for both “climate change” and “global warming” than traditional events like Earth Day or even the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP) in Paris, where the first international climate agreement was reached.
As a reminder, on February 28 DiCaprio took the stage to accept his award for best leading actor. DiCaprio, renowned for his multi-million dollar donations and efforts in favor of conservationism and climate change awareness, used the occasion to highlight how global warming interfered with his movie’s production, but also the livelihoods of millions.
Making “The Revenant” was about man’s relationship to the natural world — a world that we collectively felt in 2015 as the hottest year in recorded history. Our production needed to move to the southern tip of this planet just to be able to find snow. Climate change is real, it is happening right now, it is the most urgent threat facing our entire species, and we need to work collectively together and stop procrastinating. We need to support leaders around the world who do not speak for the big polluters or the big corporations, but who speak for all of humanity, for the indigenous peoples of the world, for the billions and billions of underprivileged people who will be most affected by this, for our children’s children, and for those people out there whose voices have been drowned out by the politics of greed.
The public’s response varied widely, as with any polarized subject, but everyone can unanimously agree that DiCaprio’s speech got a lot of people thinking and, most importantly, talking about climate change. How much though? One of the perks of social media and the internet is quantification. You can measure a lot of things, and the occasion proved perfect for a group of researchers from California.
University of California San Diego School of Medicine researcher Eric Leas and San Diego State University Graduate School of Public Health researcher John Ayers first measured all the Twitter and Google search mentions of “climate change” and “global warming” following the actor’s speech, then compared this activity to the median values.
What they found was tweets including the terms “ global warming” or “climate change” increased by 636% — a new record since data of the kind was made available in 2011. In the first hour following the speech, Google searches for “climate change” increased by 261% and by 78% for the rest of the day, while “global warming” was googled 210% more in the first day and 42% in the next four days. In absolute figures, that’s 320,680 Google searches for either global warming or climate change.
In comparison, the COP21 conference in Paris which saw global leaders unite under an agreement that aims to cut global emissions garnered 3.2 times fewer tweets. Earth Day, a movement which includes 22,000 partners in 192 countries, was far behind DiCaprio’s 2-minute-long speech which generated 5.2 times more Twitter activity.
“A single speech, at a very opportunistic time, at the Oscar ceremony, resulted in the largest increase in public engagement with climate change ever,” Ayers said, highlighting that celebrities can sometimes have a much stronger impact on leading issues owing to their broad network of followers.
“The example of DiCaprio and others demonstrates that dissemination can occur completely outside the context of a campaign and can even generate more public engagement than planned events,” the study noted.
Certainly, some people like marketing professionals aren’t surprised by these impressive numbers. After all, celebrity endorsement is very effective. The study, however, gives scientists and policy makers, who are maybe less versed on the subject, some hard numbers they can ponder over. Considering the vital importance of the effects climate change has on the world — a matter which most scientists agree is happening fast and needs to be tackled right away, but extremely polarized among the general public — organizations might want to reevaluate the way they’re communicating climate science and adapt their message for a 21st century audience.