Blog Post

Energy and Climate Change: A Text Analysis

Energy and Climate Change: A Text Analysis

In order to explore and utilize the analysis tools made available as part of Voyant, I found two speeches about energy and climate change. The first is a speech made by Barack Obama in November 2015 at the U.N. climate change summit, and the second was made by Donald Trump on May 26, 2016 in North Dakota.

The word cloud below shows the relative frequency of the words found in both speeches combined. So, the word “energy” was the most frequently used in the speeches, “america” was used frequently as well, but “progress” (found near the bottom right) was not used nearly as much as those two. However, this does not allow comparison between the two documents, it only highlights subjects in common between them. In addition, it is based on raw word counts so the Trump speech, which is longer, is more heavily favored in it.

To compare the two directly, the Trends window highlights the relative frequency of terms found in the two documents. So, to further analyze the uses of the words “energy” and “climate”, I first began by comparing the two, among others. As you can see below, Trump used the word energy very heavily, much more than Obama, whereas Obama used the word climate much more. From this, we can then return to the word cloud and see that the prominence of “energy” is due primarily to Trump.  

Now, frequency of words can only tell you so much about the content of a speech. I took a closer look at how each of the speakers used these words in context.

Obama: “If we put the right rules and incentives in place, we'll unleash the creative power of our best scientists and engineers and entrepreneurs to deploy clean energy technologies and the new jobs and new opportunities that they create all around the world.”

Trump: “American energy dominance will be declared a strategic economic and foreign policy goal of the United States.”

This highlights a difference between the two speeches: Obama uses the term in the context of clean energy, whereas Trump is discussing the energy industry as a whole which includes oil, coal and natural gas. We can also see these differences in the discussion of climate.

Obama: “One of the enemies that we'll be fighting at this conference is cynicism, the notion we can't do anything about climate change.”

Trump: “Draconian climate rules that, unless stopped, would effectively bypass Congress to impose job-killing cap-and-trade.”

The first casts discussion of climate change in a positive light as a goal to be worked towards, whereas the other casts a shadow on the very notion of climate change.

While it is difficult to prove anything just based on the analysis that I have done through Voyant, there are some initial conclusions that can be drawn. I think that just the difference in frequency of the word “climate” between the two speeches is very revealing of contrasting views of climate change. For Obama, climate change is an important problem to be faced, whereas for Trump the regulations for climate change are themselves the obstacle. In context, one can see that Trump often uses the term “energy” as a stand in for discussion of fossil fuels. It is a more neutral term with less negative connotations associated with it.

By comparing more terms in the context of the two speeches one could continue to draw hypotheses about the two speakers and their views, along with their goals for the speech.




Kevin, this is really a model for how to do an initial text analysis with Voyant and use Voyant's visualizations to ask questions that lead you back into the texts and then to begin to draw conclusions. In other words, you show here that what Voyant shows you is not the analysis: it's what we do with its visualized data that performs critical work. I am psyched that you conclude your practicum the way that you do by indicating that the step to crafting a more nuanced argument is to compare more terms in context in the two speeches. Rock on.


Kevin, How did you treat the data in the link? Did you copy and paste just the transcript of Obama's speech into the Voyant window? Or did you use the link for the webpage, which also includes the text of the preamble to Obama's speech by Joseph D. Lyons? This is another aspect for us to consider as think about how to improve the results we collect from Voyant for further analysis.