Debunking the dumbest denier myth: ‘Climate Change’ vs. ‘Global Warming’

Some myths pushed by the anti-science crowd are so laughably backwards that repeating them should be grounds for expulsion from homo ‘sapiens’ sapiens.  And so it is with the doubly wrong claim that progressives are now using the term ‘climate change’ because the planet has supposedly stopped warming.

Of course, it hasn’t actually stopped warming (see NASA reports the 12-month running mean global temperature has reached a new record in 2010 “” despite recent minimum of solar irradiance:  “We conclude that global temperature continued to rise rapidly in the past decade” and “there has been no reduction in the global warming trend of 0.15-0.20°C/decade that began in the late 1970s”).

But since the deniers make up stuff about the science, why shouldn’t they make up stuff about everything else?  The most recent iteration of the dumbest denier myth came from hominid Tim Phillips, president of Americans For Prosperity, the anti-science, anti-EPA, polluter-funded group that is a driving force behind the Tea Party:

We started looking now at the scientific impact and the fact that over the last ten years it appears it was cooling and not warming. Hence the name change, you notice how it went from “global warming” to “climate change.” Whenever the left gets in trouble, they change the name! It was liberals, now the public has repudiated liberalism, and now it’s “progressivism.” They did the same thing with “global warming” and switched over to “climate change.”

Progressivism, of course, is a very old idea.

Actually it is conservatives who typically change the names of things, as in refusing to say “Democratic” but only “Democrat” and insisting on “death tax” rather than “estate tax,”  even though only big estates are taxed, not death.

That latter switch was championed by the GOP’s spinmaster, Frank Luntz, who, as it turns out, also championed switching from ‘global warming’ to ‘climate change’ in 2003.  Scientists, environmentalists, progressives, and frankly the whole darn planet have always used both terms — hence the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, established in 1988.

In a confidential 2003 memo, Luntz asserted that the Administration and conservatives should stop using the term “global warming” because it was too frightening:

It’s time for us to start talking about “climate change” instead of global warming and “conservation” instead of preservation.1) “Climate change” is less frightening than “global warming”. As one focus group participant noted, climate change “sounds like you’re going from Pittsburgh to Fort Lauderdale.” While global warming has catastrophic connotations attached to it, climate change suggests a more controllable and less emotional challenge.

Peter Sinclair has devoted an entire video to debunking this myth:

I use both terms, though, as I’ve said many times, I prefer “Hell and High Water,” since is more descriptive of what is to come:

Others prefer “Global Weirding.” Whatever you call it, it ain’t gonna be pretty.


49 Responses to Debunking the dumbest denier myth: ‘Climate Change’ vs. ‘Global Warming’

  1. Esop says:

    Warmest year in the instrumental record coincides with the weirdest weather on record. As a starter.

  2. dhogaza says:

    Recently someone at … Real Climate??? … traced back the use of “climate change” to the literature some decades back. Both “global warming” and “climate change” have been used by professionals for a long time.

    So Luntz didn’t invent the term, he just picked up on it and put it into use for political spin reasons (as you point out).

  3. cervantes says:

    I read on the Boston Globe web site last night — an item no longer featured — that the chilly weather we’ve been having lately is related to unusually warm weather stretching from Greenland to the pole, which is directing colder air south.

    Can you comment on this? It seems kind of, like, important.

  4. Walt Palmer says:

    I use both terms but I use them in a way that makes things clearer for me; the distinction that I support is this: Global warming should be used to describe the increase in the Earth’s global average temperature; climate change should be used to describe the effects of this warming. Climate change effects are more complex than the simple rise in temperature. In fact it’s conceivable that global warming, by changing patterns of air and ocean circulation could result in lower average temperatures for a specific region. But climate change can be used to talk about storm intensity, storm frequency, regional chronic aridity, frequency of drought events, frequency of extreme rainfall events and other non-temperature phenomena that result from the overall rise in global temperature.

  5. Paul Metz says:

    In Europe CC is more commonly used than GW.

  6. BB says:

    I think that “Climate Change” and “Global Warming” are more-or-less synonymous, though “Climate Change”.

    However, “Global Weirding” and “Climate Disruption” (to me) are more nebulous phrases that walk down the slippery slope to being completely unfalsifiable when applied to any event, situation, or circumstance.

    Phillips definitely picked the wrong phrase, but it appears every group has their phrases that stretch, reach, and frame discussions to suit their aims.

  7. Adam R. says:

    You have to be unusually ignorant of the subject you’re discussing not to know what the “CC” in IPCC stands for, and how long that organization’s been around.

    Or you could just be dishonest, like Tim Phillips.

  8. Lars Karlsson says:

    The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was established in 1988.

  9. Global heating is correct too… something that leads to climate destabilization.

  10. Dennis says:

    Let’s just start the rumor that they say “climate change” east of the mountains, and “global warming” west of them. Kinda like “soda” v. “pop.” I bet the media will pick up on that one.

  11. BillD says:

    From a scientific perspective, it makes much better sense to have journals such as Journal of Climate change and Global Climate change biology. NSF should support programs in “climate change” not “global warming.” The term “Climate change” takes into account changes in precipitation and generally a broader perspective. Since there have been periods in the earth’s history when climate cooled, we need to study those times as well.

  12. Matt says:

    Personally, I like anthropogenic climate change. The cause ( human ) is in the phrase distinguishing it from paleoclimate change and change can refer to the various effects: warming, precipitation changes, etc. I do not like “global weirding” or “disruption” it gives the impression that things are only or mainly becoming more chaotic when the main thing to impress is changing PDFs to a warmer climate with local nuances depending on the specific region. I’d rather shoot high than oversimplify or insult some ones intelligence.

  13. Anderlan says:

    Great explanation…Global Warming leads to Climate Change.

  14. as to the ‘It’s Cold, so there is no global warming”, there is a very illuminating graph I have posted here

    follow the link to the NOAA site for current graph.

  15. Mela says:

    Using google’s new Ngram book searching tool shows that both terms have been used over the last few decades. Both terms start to appear in the mid- to late-60s.

    ‘Climate change’ seemed to be somewhat favoured from the 70s to the late 80s. Then ‘global warming’ was as frequently used up to the mid 90s, with climate change being largely favoured up to modern day.

    Ngram’s a nice little tool.

  16. Pete Dunkelberg says:

    Psst Joe, it’s Homo misnomer, capital H, italics.

  17. Jeffrey Davis says:

    re: 14

    Bastardi doesn’t “debunk” anything. He offers a weird hypothesis to counter actual observed events. When large bodies of Arctic and sub-Arctic water started freezing late this year, circumpolar winds changed.

  18. From Peru says:

    One graph more on the WUWT-beloved DMI graph:

    Astounding spike in Arctic temperatures: warming of 10ºC in less than a week!

  19. Michael Hauber says:

    If deniers are going to spin the term ‘climate change’ as ‘admitting global warming has stopped’, whats to stop them from spinning ‘expulsion from homo sapiens’ to ‘kill those who disagree with me’.

  20. Gordon says:

    How about “global toasting”?

  21. Mike says:

    The dumbest denier myth is that deniers are skeptics.

  22. Esop says:

    #19 (From Peru): That Danish DMI graph is absolutely insane. No wonder we are now seeing ice melt in the Arctic in late December.

  23. S. Molnar says:

    “But since the deniers make up stuff about the science, why shouldn’t they make up stuff about everything else?”

    It’s the other way around. There never was anything special about science or climate.

  24. Michael says:

    Check out some of the stations in northern Canada; for example, Coral Harbor (north of Hudson Bay) has been nearly 30°C/54°F above average, many others are over 20°C above average:

  25. From Peru says:

    How is the weather today in the USA?

    The NOAA MAP ROOM linked above shows WARM anomalies over the Continental Unites States.

    Anyone confirm the NOAA temperatures with personal anecdotes?

  26. David B. Benson says:

    Climate dysfunction.

  27. Michael T. says:

    26 From Peru

    Yes, in my location (North Carolina) the high was 13C and the low was 4C, which is warmer than average by 5 and 6 deg. C. On Dec 1st we hit 20C, but since then temps have been running much below average in temperature (linked to the negative Arctic Oscillation) and below average in precipitation probably due to both the negative AO and La Nina pattern.

  28. monkey says:

    I think the reason for the change is things such as more droughts, more hurricanes, more floods are not directly related to warmer temperatures and could occur either way. More importantly warming or cooling will alter precipitation levels as well as it will also effect the distribution of the warm and cold thus some areas could get colder under global warming and warmer under global cooling. I think the real debate is not whether global warming and climate change is occurring (which it is) but rather is it part of the natural cycle or human induced. Climate has never been stationary and has been changing since the Earth’s formation 7 billion years. The debate is over whether we are causing this or if its beyond our control. Even most skeptics admit the earth has warmed they simply believe it is a natural occurrance, not manmade. Also even amongst supporters, the impact, the degree of warming, and its distribution across the globe are still debatable. The warming has been far greater in some areas than others and its impacts have been varied.

  29. Michael T. says:

    Here is the temperature changes in NH Winter/SH Summer (Dec-Feb) from 1960-2010.

    It’s warmed alot over North America, Eurasia and the arctic over these five decades.

  30. monkey says:

    True North America has warmed, but most of the exceptional warmth was in the late 90s and early part of the decade. While Canada as a whole has seen unusual warmth in the past few years, the United States has not nor have the areas along the Canadian-US border where 90% of the Canadian population lives. As for Europe, their summers have definitely trended warmer, no question. Their winters are a bit more questionable since despite several mild winters from 1990 until the last couple years, cold winters have throughout European history tended to be in clusters. Usually they were fewer colder winters than mild ones, but the cold ones had much greater negative anomalies than the mild ones. In the inter-war years, mild ones dominated, but the 40s had some very severe ones most notably 1940 and 1947, but also several other cold ones too. The 50s were pretty tranquil on the whole while in the 60s you had 1963 which was in much of Europe the coldest in modern times, but it was very much an outlier in that decade. The 70s was mostly mild, but then turned quite cold in the late 70s and stayed that way until the late 80s when mild winters returned. 1975 was an exceptionally mild winter much like 2007, while 1979 was a very harsh one much like 2010. I don’t think the fact Europe is seeing two back to back (or three if you include 2009 which was cold but not too extreme asides from the a severe two week cold wave in early January) is any accident. This is due to the strong Greenland blocking pattern which tends to produce very cold winters followed by quite hot summers as the block impedes the moderate air from the Atlantic from reaching the continent. Since AO and NAO values have been very negative over the last year and half, I don’t think it should be a surprise if Europe experiences several harsh winters. The only reason you won’t see cooling as these are usually followed by hot summers, the problem is there is less variation in summer months than winter months. A 2 degree deviation from the norm is a lot more common in the winter than the summer. I should note that a large area from Atlantic Canada through the Gulf of St. Lawrence, Northern Quebec, Labrador, Nunavut, and Greenland is experiencing record mild winters from the same Greenland block while the Eastern US (especially areas south of the Potomac and Ohio Rivers) are abnormally cold. If you look at the winter of 2008, 2009, and 2010, or December so far, all have been close to or below normal in the Continental US while 2009, 2010, and this winter so far have been also colder than normal in Europe, in fact the past one and this current one have been amongst some of the coldest on record and if this trend continues this will wipe out any warming in the winters pretty quickly. And since more people live in Europe and the Eastern US than Northern Canada, this is bad news for those who hope people will put more pressure on politicians to take action.

  31. Gerald P. says:

    Re the allusions to early usages of the phrases under discussion: In 1975 Wally Broecker published a classic article entitled “Climatic Change: Are We on the Brink of a Pronounced Global Warming?” [Wallace S. Broecker; Science; 8 August 1975: pp460-463]. So both terms have been around for at least 35 years.

    His title question is answered in the abstract: “… By analogy with similar events in the past, the natural climatic cooling which, since 1940, has more than compensated for the carbon dioxide effect, will soon bottom out. Once this happens, the exponential rise in the atmospheric carbon dioxide content will tend to become a significant factor and by early in the next century will have driven the mean planetary temperature beyond the limits experienced during the last 1000 years.”

  32. Sam says:

    I have always preferred the term global warming. It is clear and cannot be DIS-understood and miscommunicated! A term even Bush could follow.

  33. Monrdhil says:

    As Paul Metz said, in Europe the most commonly used term is “Climate Change”, not for political reasons, but for scientific ones. The intensity of warming will not be the same in every region of the globe, en even in every territory of a given country.
    But the most important is that, for inhabitants, the warming will not be much sensible in itself, but will be accompanied by many other changes in climate (rain frequency and intensity …). And those may have a major impact on various econmic sectors.

  34. Peter M says:

    I would think the ice core data of past C02 levels and temperatures are a good indication of what lies in store for us in the future.

    I also disagree with Monkey (#29) Who still feels that the warming thus far is open to debate- “If its man-made”- or otherwise.. The IPCC, and NOAA and the National Academy of Sciences have said that its a 9 in 10 chance that its man made- that’s not a figure I would call ‘debatable’- I think that the human footprint in climate change thus far is in fact very unmistakable.

    Climate has been in fact very stable over the last 12,000 years- with stable sea levels, and pretty stable temperatures. James Hansen in his interview with Bill Mc Kibben over at Grist recently said global average warming thus far is “only” about 1 degree, but that is actually a lot. During the last major ice age, when New York, Minneapolis, and Seattle were under an ice sheet a mile thick, global average temperature was about 5 degrees colder than it is now. The last time Earth was 2 degrees warmer so much ice melted that sea level was about twenty-five meters (eighty feet) higher than it is today.

  35. Joy Hughes says:

    I looked at the previous years Danish arctic data. It seems this kind of spike happens more often than not, back to 1958, not at all unusual.

    Plenty of other reasons to be alarmed, of course.

  36. Roger B. says:

    From Peru,

    The largest positive temperature deviations in North America this month have been in far northeastern North America but most far northern locations have been above the 1971-2000 temperature averages. Through Dec. 22, Iqaluit, Nunuvut has been +26.8 F (+14.9 C) relative to the 1971-2000 average while Goose Bay, Newfoundland has been +20.8 F (11.6 C). In Sault Ste. Marie, we’ve been above average the last 6 days but we’re still below average for the month at -2.4 F. If we don’t get above average this month, it will be the first month this year we’ll have been below average.

    Roger Blanchard
    Sault Ste. Marie, MI

  37. Chris Winter says:

    These terms are precisely descriptive.

    Decades of temperature measurements establish that the average temperature of our globe is rising, hence “global warming.”

    Based on reconstructions of prehistoric conditions (paleoclimatology), such warming changes the nature of the climate, sometimes drastically. Hence, “climate change.”

    And (for the last time, I can only hope) someone who repudiates or disbelieves an observable fact can be said to deny it. Hence, that person can fairly be called a denier. No allusion to the Holocaust is intended or should be inferred.

    That the meanings of these terms are twisted to advance a destructive agenda is bad enough. Worse, in my opinion, is that so few seem to find it unacceptable that the definite meanings of words and sentences in general can be casually ignored. Fortunately, such ignorance does not occur here at CP.

  38. bbttxu says:

    In books at least, ‘climate change’ is (and has been) more popular than ‘global warming’…,climate+change,global+cooling&year_start=1950&year_end=2000&corpus=0&smoothing=3

  39. Susan Anderson says:

    re Cervantes request for explanation of polar warmth and cold further south. I wish one of you who really understands this would once again explain, as I believe this is very important. OTOH, there are a wide variety of resources that do explain this well, such as the desmogblog climate crock video cited above. Skeptical Science is a good place to go. And of course this site should yield plenty of fact-based material on the subject.

    A kind of simplistic view is that as the arctic melts the cold is leaving it. I know this is egregious in what it leaves out, but still a useful concept I think.

    While one can see the connection between northern warmth and cold further south, the more it is explained, the easier it is to grasp. I remember, for example, taking forever to understand that heat moves towards the poles from the equator, which would seem to be so obvious as to not need explanation. Having only a rudimentary understanding of climate science, I have a kind of inkling, but tend to make mistakes (and a fool of myself) saying what I do understand. However, there is a connection and there are a variety of good resources, here and elsewhere. On one level, you could say there is a transfer of heat from north to south and vice versa. On another, there is something about heating producing more water vapor. Then there’s the Arctic Oscillation. Winds. Currents. It certainly helps to take a look at the various anomaly maps. From a non-science perspective, it is obvious at the very least that the layers of hot and cold bands include polar warmth and cold in northern Europe and parts of Canada and the US. These patterns, if observed on a regular basis, begin to make a kind of sense.

    On the topic, once I saw the global warming-climate change argument (years ago) I begin many of my amateur efforts with the words climate change due to global warming. It can also be useful to point out that terminology is just language.

    [and to go OT once more, isn’t it fascinating that since the “hockey stick” handle has a kink in it making it an imperfect metaphor, the imperfection of the metaphor becomes an important way to debunk the facts and science.]

  40. Bob Doublin says:

    Um,I’m really and truly at a loss why we can’t just say Global Warming AND Climate Change? But I’ve also been extremely annoyed by all the talk the last few years about catering to the public’s stupidity and fearfulness with microadjusting the phrasing of statements so as not to alarm the yokels.

  41. Raul M. says:

    Global Warming with a question mark to
    continue to the projected path of increased
    Climate change with a period to say how the
    Climate has changed, has the propensity
    to change even more, …
    Climate control to indicate humans have discovered
    that what humans do makes a world of difference.

  42. 350 Now says:

    Climate Collapse.

  43. Michael T. says:

    monkey 31

    This graph from NASA shows the winter and summer mean temp anomalies in Europe from 1950-2010:

  44. Michael T. says:

    And here is another graph for winter and summer including the U.S. and Japan:

  45. PurpleOzone says:

    The first expression I heard was “runaway warming by greenhouses gases”. Used in connection with Venus, which is hotter than an oven (~740 F).

    Then I was told it could happen to Earth, on account of our emissions…

  46. Susan Anderson says:

    OK, re cold north from warmer further north, here’s a simple one:

    “Sea ice loss during the spring and summer melt season, which leaves a thinner and more sparse ice cover throughout the fall and early winter, is a key suspect in influencing winter weather patterns. When the ice melts, it allows incoming solar radiation to warm water and air temperatures, which in turn has an influence on atmospheric pressure and circulation, and may help shift Arctic air southward, while the Arctic remains unusually warm.

    “…. “This pattern is kind of like leaving the refrigerator door ajar — the refrigerator warm up, but all the cold air spills out into the house.””

    ClimateCentral is doing an increasingly excellent job of tracking developments with weather and climate.

  47. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    I ‘prefer’ ‘catastrophic climate disruption’ because it has been the relative stability of the climate in the last few thousand years that has allowed our civilization, so-called, to rise. Climate disruptions on the way wreaked havoc, as the Maya, Moche, Old Kingdom Egyptians etc could testify, but this is the Big One. It will cause a Climate Holocaust (as in ‘burned whole’)hence the absolute appropriateness of labeling denialists as denialists.

  48. A face in the clouds says:

    Don’t know if this adds to the conversation, but the discussion sent me digging through old records for a memorable New York Times editorial from 10/15/1950 which asked two questions: “Is the climate changing?” and “Is the world warming up?” Not sure The Times would have asked were it not for the drought and stretch of unusual warmth the region had been experiencing, but it is still as striking now as it was then. And skeptics were already up to what are now their “old tricks” despite the scientific evidence presented in the editorial.

    As a side note, in 1950 a weather observer for a small Texas Panhandle newspaper (Dr. O.H. Loyd) began to wonder out loud about the possible effects of the first atomic bomb test on rainfall cycles. Dr. Loyd was a physician/farmer who moved to the Panhandle in 1907 and began writing a weekly weather column for The Vega Enterprise in ’50. Like most physicians he wrote very long, run-on sentences but maintained a physician’s caution when writing about possible manmade changes in the climate. The Vega Enterprise is available on microfilm should nuclear testing and climate change strike a researcher’s fancy out there.