By Judith Curry
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.”
A new report has been issued by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication entitled Climate Change in the American Mind.
From the Guardian:
The survey sample of 1,657 people, compiled over a two-week period late last year, found a large swathe of Americans turned off by the words “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,” the researchers said.
Americans in general were 13% more likely to say that global warming was a bad thing.
From an article in Time:
In a new report by the Yale Project on Climate Communications, researchers led by Anthony Leiserowitz surveyed Americans and found that “global warming” is used much more commonly than “climate change,” both in conversation and in Internet searches, and that “global warming” is significantly more engaging than “climate change.” That’s because global warming generated more alarming associations, causing survey respondents to think of disasters like melting ice, coastal flooding and extreme weather, while “climate change” generated more banal associations with generation weather patterns. “Global warming” was also associated with:
- Greater certainty that the phenomenon was happening
- Greater understanding that human activities were the primary driver of warming, especially among political independents
- A greater sense of personal threat, as well as more intense worry about the issue
- A greater sense that people are being harmed right now by warming, and a greater sense of threat to future generations
From the Carbon Brief:
So does it matter whether people use the term “climate change” or “global warming”? It depends on motivation of those using it.
If the objective is to impart climate with a sense of urgency, “global warming” may work better, the Yale survey suggests. If the aim is to communicate science, “climate change” may be best as scientists say it better encapsulates the broad impacts of rising greenhouse gas emissions.
The New Yorker has a satirical piece, excerpts:
After a report from the Yale Center on Climate Change Communication showed that the term “climate change” elicits relatively little concern from the American public, leading scientists are recommending replacing it with a new term: “You will be burnt to a crisp and die.”
Other terms under consideration by the scientists include “your cities will be ravaged by tsunamis and floods” and “earth will be a fiery hellhole incapable of supporting human life.”
Scientists were generally supportive of the suggestions, with many favoring the term “your future will involve rowing a boat down a river of rotting corpses.”
“Any of these terms would do a better job conveying the urgency of the problem,” Tracy Klugian, a spokesperson for the newly renamed Yale Center for Oh My God Wake Up You Assholes, said.
The real problem is identified by Jaime Jessop in a tweet: Oh dear, ‘climate change’ (TM) re-brand has back-fired somewhat. Back to GW? But there isn’t any. What to do?
The title of a post by JoNova sums it up: Yale says “Global Warming” is a better misused-phrase for propaganda – dump “climate change”
Well, I am not going to play the propaganda game here; I don’t care which phrase is more effective at mobilizing ‘action.’ What concerns me is accuracy.
Personally, I use AGW (shorthand for anthropogenic global warming); I think it is important to include the ‘A’ when we are talking about that unknown fraction of warming since 1950 that can be attributed to humans. If you leave out the ‘A’, people are misled into thinking that all warming for the past 1000 years is caused by humans (the ‘hockey stick’ argument).
With regards to ‘climate change’, I think this is extremely misleading. The Carbon Brief article states: If the aim is to communicate science, “climate change” may be best as scientists say it better encapsulates the broad impacts of rising greenhouse gas emissions. Well, I guess ‘climate change’ helps you get around the inconvenient truth of the hiatus in global surface temperature increase. And it implies that any change, or weather you don’t like, is caused by humans.
But from a scientific perspective, I’m not sure that the phrase ‘climate change’ has any meaning at all. If you are going to talk about ‘climate change’, you need some reference time scale, and some amplitude of change to consider. This time scale is nominally taken to be 30 years. Is there a scientific justification for this period? I don’t think there is, particularly since 30 years is half of the nominal time scales of the AMO/PDO/stadium wave. Apart from this nominal 60-70 period, there is a full spectrum of natural climate variability from interannual to millennial time scales. By contrast, from the human perspective, Tony Brown argued in a post Noticeable climate change that periods shorter than 30 years are of substantial importance to humans and ecosystems.
From a scientific perspective, I suggest that the following be used: ‘anthropogenic global warming’ and ‘climate variability.’ We should retire ‘climate change’ from the public discourse, since it is misleading, and apparently not even ‘effective’. There is also the unfortunate use of the term ‘climate change’ in all sorts of government programs, not to mention the IPCC.