Watch your language

Posted in: Comment, New Publications, News and Updates

The Guardian reports that university researchers recommend saying global warming rather than climate change if you want to influence Americans.  The two terms are often used interchangeably but they generate very different responses, according to researchers from Yale and George Mason Universities.

The term global warming resonates far more powerfully, triggering images of ice melt, extreme weather and catastrophe.  Mention climate change, however, and many Americans switch off.  The researchers found naming the issue as global warming rather than climate change made it easier to communicate with Americans being 13% more likely to say that global warming was a bad thing.  It's said that George W B swapped the term climate change for global warming in 2002, on the advice of a political consultant because it was a less  frightening idea than global warming.  I heard President Obama last night hedge his bets by using both phrases in the same sentence.

Over here, there was a similar process, but for the opposite reason.  The campaign in the late 1990s by high-profile insider-activists to replace global warming by climate change [actually, rapid climate change, though the rapidity tends to get lost] in discourse of all kinds was based on the idea that too many people thought that global warming would mean warmer weather, and therefore might well be a good thing, and might even lead, as it has, to much planting of pinot noir vines across the south of England.  I remember thinking at the time that the problem with a discourse around climate was that its very essence was change – and had been from the beginning.  Thus there was a risk of confusing people more than we needed to.  And anyway, the climate is changing (rapidly) because of global warming, and is thus a secondary issue.  And anyway, anyway, the earth is only warming because of the way we are buggering up the biosphere through our economy, and so even that's only a symptom, and not the cause.  Back to basics anyone?  Back to environmental education?


Posted in: Comment, New Publications, News and Updates


  • (we won't publish this)

Write a response