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Are We Suffering from Environmental Ennui?

Study Shows We’re Yawning About Most Things Mother Earth

A University of Missouri-Kansas City anatomy and physiology professor’s research shows that we’re becoming increasingly indifferent to the condition of the environment.

“People are way more interested in other stuff,” said the author of the study, Malcolm McCallum, a UMKC teaching assistant professor in the School of Biological Sciences. His article was published in the international journal “Biodiversity and Conservation.”

McCallum measured public interest through Google searches. He and co-author Gwendolynn Bury of Oregon State University used Google Insights for Search (GIFS) to obtain data for 19 environment-related terms from 2004 to 2009. The only environment-related term with a positive slope was “climate change.” Most of the other 18 — including “ecology,” “fish conservation” and “pollution” —  had strong negative slopes, indicating that searches for these topics dropped over the last decade.

“Our results suggest that the public is growing less interested in the environment,” McCallum said. “Changes in the search behavior by the public are closely tied to their interests, and those interests are critical to driving public policy.”

McCallum’s research quickly captured the interest of international scientists and science educators after it was published March 30. “Three reprint requests within 20 minutes,” he said.

McCallum says his research, combined with recent studies including one that measured concern for fisheries and another that gauged the engagement of high school students, show one thing:

“The English-speaking world has a declining interest in the environment,” he said. “The same goes for the rest of the globe.”


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