Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

What's in a Name? Global Warming vs. Climate Change in the Eyes of Americans

Climate
What's in a Name? Global Warming vs. Climate Change in the Eyes of Americans

In a surprising report released today by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication, researchers looked at the impact of the two most common terms for human-induced climate warming—global warming and climate change—on Americans.

The authors found that the term "global warming" is associated with greater public understanding, emotional engagement and support for personal and national action than the term "climate change," which is often favored by scientists.  

Among other findings, the report—What's In A Name? Global Warming vs. Climate Changeshowed the term "global warming" appears to be associated with:

  • Greater certainty that the phenomenon is happening, especially among men, Generation X (31-48) and liberals.

  • Greater understanding that human activities are the primary cause among Independents.

  • Greater understanding that there is a scientific consensus about the reality of the phenomenon among Independents and liberals.

  • More intense worry about the issue, especially among men, Generation Y (18-30), Generation X, Democrats, liberals and moderates.

  • A greater sense of personal threat, especially among women, the Greatest Generation (68+), African-Americans, Hispanics, Democrats, Independents, Republicans, liberals and moderates.

  • Higher issue priority ratings for action by the president and Congress, especially among women, Democrats, liberals and moderates.

  • Greater willingness to join a campaign to convince elected officials to take action, especially among men, Generation X, liberals and moderates.

While for some in-the-know, the two phrases are often seen as synonymous, the report—which analyzed three separate studies—clearly shows that they mean different things to different Americans. The general public tends to favor the term "global warming"—and perhaps we should take note.

The need for climate mitigation seems to be growing more urgent by the day. Just this month, the Obama Administration released the National Climate Report which concluded that global warming is increasing the frequency of extreme weather events, Center for Naval Analyses released its National Security and the Accelerating Risks of Climate Change report saying that climate change is a "catalyst for conflict" and University of California, Irvine conclusively stated that the West Antarctic glacier has melted past the point of no return and will inevitably raise sea levels by up to four feet. 

Yet, the climate deniers still wield alarming influence. Big contenders with even bigger pocket books, like the Koch Brothers, are able to pump money into anti-climate campaigns, bills and agendas, drowning out the voices of scientists who continue to prove that climate change—or, global warming, rather—is real, caused in part by humans and happening right now. 

Could the expression "climate change" be the culprit for the lack of action taken on the issue? Cognitive meaning can and does change, so perhaps with the continued use of "climate change," it will come to acquire a similar meaning as "global warming" in the minds of Americans. But language choices can influence public policy. The terms we use to describe our world shape the way in which we see it. And, as with most things, the key to mobilizing the public is to appeal to emotions on a personal level, which as this study has shown, might be better conjured by a simple change of phrase.

--------

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

Cognitive Dissonance: Why Are We So Complacent in the Face of Climate Change?

Activist Tom Steyer Announces Big-Spending Election Plan to Take Down Climate-Denying Candidates

Demand Action on Climate Change in NYC on Sept. 20

--------

A Brood X cicada in 2004. Pmjacoby / CC BY-SA 3.0

Fifteen states are in for an unusually noisy spring.

Read More Show Less

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

A creative depiction of bigfoot in a forest. Nisian Hughes / Stone / Getty Images

Deep in the woods, a hairy, ape-like man is said to be living a quiet and secluded life. While some deny the creature's existence, others spend their lives trying to prove it.

Read More Show Less

Trending

President of the European Investment Bank Werner Hoyer holds a press conference in Brussels, Belgium on Jan. 30, 2020. Dursun Aydemir / Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

By Jon Queally

Noted author and 350.org co-founder Bill McKibben was among the first to celebrate word that the president of the European Investment Bank on Wednesday openly declared, "To put it mildly, gas is over" — an admission that squares with what climate experts and economists have been saying for years if not decades.

Read More Show Less

A dwarf giraffe is seen in Uganda, Africa. Dr. Michael Brown, GCF

Nine feet tall is gigantic by human standards, but when researcher and conservationist Michael Brown spotted a giraffe in Uganda's Murchison Falls National Park that measured nine feet, four inches, he was shocked.

Read More Show Less
Kelsey Mueller, 16, pets Ruby while waiting with her family to be escorted from the evacuation zone at the Shaver Lake Marina parking lot off of CA-168 during the Creek Fire on Sept. 7, 2020 in Shaver Lake, California. Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times / Getty Images

By Daisy Simmons

In a wildfire, hurricane, or other disaster, people with pets should heed the Humane Society's advice: If it isn't safe for you, it isn't safe for your animals either.

Read More Show Less