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Americans Still Don't Know What Climate Change Is, Google Shows

How embarrassing.

World leaders took a major step forward Saturday when they reached an accord on curbing the climate change crisis facing our planet -- but if Google search data is anything to go by, Americans are barely aware that there was a problem to begin with.

A look at Google Trends data on Monday shows that the "top questions" people in the United States typed into the search engine include "Is climate change real?" and "Why is climate change important?"

While the chart above will update as the most popular queries on Google change, the top five questions on climate change paint a pretty bleak picture: Many American Googlers apparently don't know what climate change is, aren't sure that it's real and don't get why they should care.

Compared to Google searches around the world in the past week, Americans were also less interested in the United Nation's climate conference (the 21st Conference of the Parties, or COP21) hosted in Paris over the last couple weeks. Note again that this interactive map will change as time goes on:

Google's data shows that, in the past week, the United States ranked 56th in terms of interest in the COP21 summit. Togo, Cameroon and Burkina Faso were the top three most interested, according to the search data.

Everyone should care about climate change for the basic reason that, hey, it's pretty neat to live on planet Earth, and it'd be cool if future generations could continue to do so comfortably. But Americans have a particularly large weight on their shoulders: The United States has contributed significantly more to global warming overall than any country.

Meanwhile, some of the richest and most powerful Americans -- Charles and David Koch, for example -- pour vast resources into denying the problem even exists. Last week, a town in North Carolina reportedly rejected a plan to build solar panels because residents worried the units would "suck up all the energy from the sun" and cause cancer. There's clearly a lot of work to be done simply to educate U.S. citizens about global warming and the work that could mitigate the problem.

Of course, some people did turn to Google for information about specific climate change issues. In the U.S., there appears to be particular interest around rising sea levels:

And if nothing else, the Paris talks appear to have caused a spike in climate change interest for Americans overall -- at least where Google searches are concerned:

It also goes without saying that Google searches paint a pretty limited picture. While it certainly gives us an understanding of what a great many people have on their minds, the usefulness basically ends there.

Even as Americans ask Google if climate change is real, some of the most important people and companies in the world are working to make things better as part of the new Breakthrough Energy Coalition, which includes Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg. In addition, recent technological advances are bringing us closer than ever to meaningful solutions. 

But you -- yes, you! -- can still do your part to help. Here are a few ideas to get you started. Your kids will thank you.

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