Do we finally have the answer to the age-old (decade old?) question of what term is better for climate hawks to use: “global warming” or “climate change”?
In new polling by the Climate Change Communication efforts of Yale and George Mason, “global warming” is the winner — across the board:
We 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.
… the use of the term climate change appears to actually reduce issue engagement by Democrats, Independents, liberals, and moderates, as well as a variety of subgroups within American society, including men, women, minorities, different generations, and across political and partisan lines.
Here’s an even more amazing finding: “Within the Weather category, global warming generates a higher percentage of associations to “extreme weather” than does climate change, which generates more associations to general weather patterns.”
So for all those who think the term climate change is more closely associated with extreme weather — I’m looking at you Wall Street Journal editors — think again.
Indeed, as that WSJ article shows, it is difficult to separate the question of which term is better from the doubly wrong claim by conservatives that progressives are allegedly now using the term ‘climate change’ because the planet has supposedly stopped warming. Of course, warming hasn’t actually stopped, it has sped up. Similarly the melting of the great ice sheets has accelerated. In fact, recent analysis makes clear that even surface air temperatures are rising faster than reported by the global temperature records, especially the Hadley Center’s (see “Faux Pause 2”):
A new study by British and Canadian researchers shows that the global temperature rise of the past 15 years has been greatly underestimated. The reason is the data gaps in the weather station network, especially in the Arctic. If you fill these data gaps using satellite measurements, the warming trend is more than doubled in the widely used HadCRUT4 data, and the much-discussed “warming pause” has virtually disappeared.
But since the deniers make up stuff about the science, why shouldn’t they make up stuff about everything else?
In fact it was the GOP’s spinmaster, Frank Luntz — the guy who pushed “death tax” to replace “estate tax” — who first urged conservatives to switch from “global warming” to “climate change” over a decade ago! 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 wrote (original emphasis):
It’s time for us to start talking about “climate change” instead of global warming…
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.
D’oh! And as it turns out, at least according to the Yale polling, Luntz was right. Yale explains that “the term global warming is 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.
So it would seem that global warming is the term to use (though other polling has found little difference between the two terms).
For the record, widespread use of the term “climate change” long predates Luntz’s memo, particularly in the scientific literature:
Indeed, the term “climatic change” goes back to a 1956 paper by Gilbert Plass, long-predating the use of “global warming” by climatologist Wallace Broecker in 1975.
I have always used both terms, though, as I’ve said many times, I prefer “Hell and High Water,” since it is more descriptive of what is to come. Others prefer “Global Weirding.” Whatever you call it, it ain’t gonna be pretty.