The term ‘climate change’ is generally preferred among scientists over the term ‘global warming.’ The two terms are significantly different from each other, and the American population perceives it differently as well. According to a report by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication this week, the terms “are often not synonymous — they mean different things to different people, and activate different sets of beliefs, feelings, and behaviors.”
While ‘warming’ only refers to the heating of the planet due to the depletion of the ozone layer surrounding the Earth, which makes the penetration of hard sun rays easier; ‘climate change’ is a broader term that not only encompasses the heating of Earth’s surface, but also talks about the changes noted in weather such as rising of severe storms, damaging winds and droughts.
Terms perceived differently by Americans
In a recent poll, conducted among Americans, 63% said that ‘climate change’ is a bad thing, while ‘global warming’ is a bad thing in the opinion of 76%, which is a 13 point difference. In a similar question, 60% Hispanics considered ‘global warming’ harmful personally while only 30% said the same for ‘climate change.’ Self-identified Republicans were an exception to this as no significant change was seen in their opinion based on the language, and a majority was not even concerned with the issue.
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The difference is easily grasped by Republican politicians. In 2002, a Republican strategist, Frank Luntz urged the usage of the term ‘climate change’ by his fellow Republicans in a memorandum.
He wrote that “while global warming has catastrophic communications attached to it, climate change sounds a more controllable and less emotional challenge.”
Global warming a more familiar term
No perfect solution has been found by pollsters regarding the issue. They always strive to use wording in their designed questions that is not only technically accurate and politically neutral, but at the same time easily understood. The purpose is to make use of public’s knowledge and understanding for measuring public’s opinion on a topic of general concern.
The definition of ‘politically neutral’ is, however, still debated. Yale Project’s director, Anthony Leiserowitz, said that considering the fact that the term ‘global warming’ is more familiar among Americans, he would continue using it in his polls. In academic literature, ‘climate change’ is a more common term than in public discourse.