The climate 'tis changing. Good thing it's not global warming!

By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

You say climate change, I say global warming. These two terms don't seem all that far apart. Both refer to the massive shifts in climate, around the globe.

But an analysis by Yale and George Mason universities has found that the term “global warming” sounds waaay more alarming and worrisome. Especially to liberals, Gen Xers and men, according to the study.

Arctic as of Sept. 16, 2012 PROMO
Oh look, it’s the arctic doing that climate changey thing. (Image: NASA, 2012)

Whereas the term climate change, produces a much more subdued and less emotional reaction from people, rather as if Prince Charles had mentioned the phenomenon over tea before nodding off.

So, let's review: Global warming, woooo, scary! Think Norman Bates approaching the shower curtain as the orchestra shrieks, louder and louder.

Climate change, meh. It’s not normal. But no Norman.

This pretty much tracks with what the Dark Lord of Political Terminology decided way back in 2001, when according to the study he advised George W. Bush to not get burned by "global warming."

"Prior to the 2002 mid-term elections, Frank Luntz, a Republican pollster and strategist, gave the George W. Bush administration the following advice in a secret memo about how to win the "environmental communications battle", including global warming. [Editor note: See how they're mainly focused on winning the war of words and not so much the actual problem? Take heed voters.]

Luntz's recommendation to Republicans was to use the term climate change instead of global warming: "It's time for us to start talking about ‘climate change' instead of global warming…‘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."

Luntz, the wordmeister, nailed it.

GWB took that advice and switched right over to climate change, according to later analysis.

Interestingly, today, conservatives and liberals, for whatever reason, have since switched their positions on the terminology of climate change.

Research now shows that conservative think tanks are more likely to use the term "global warming" than climate change, while liberals are the other way around.

To deconstruct that, you'd probably have to read the study. I'll take a guess that liberals, as they're wont to do, may be placating and wooing conservatives by adopting the more palatable climate change term. Or perhaps they're simply trying to downplay their own inaction on this global crisis.

Conservatives, for different reasons, may have seized "global warming" because it seems to put the lie to climate change during cold and snowy winters. See, there's no global warming, you can build an igloo in Pittsburgh! (In fact, an Oklahoma Senator and compatriots famously did denounce climate change as not real by constructing an igloo in DC a few years back.) I say this because conservatives, speaking now of those in Congress and leadership roles, still tend to "not believe" the scientific phenomenon of global warming and have been known to point to snow and ice as evidence on their side.

Liberals sometimes do the same, singling out certain weather events as proof of the onslaught of climate change. Hurricane Katrina is a good example. This massive hurricane may have fit into the pattern of warming oceans creating mega storms, or she may have done more damage because industrialists paved her way when they ruined the shoreline ecology that could have mitigated her assault on New Orleans.

And so we remain politically paralyzed. Debating whether climate change, or global warming, even exists, as this multi-headed Godzilla stomps toward Manhattan. (Get ready for Godzilla references this summer; can’t be helped.)

In the end, we really probably need a scarier phrase than even Global Warming – Global Boiling? Climate Crash? (clearly I don’t know that better word) – to convey the disaster ahead. I think those of us who "believe in" climate change could find comfort in a more frightening term, and not one so pansy as Tom Friedman's Global Weirding, which granted, captures the erratic nature of climate change, but totally fails on the fearsomeness scale.

Oh look, Miami's disappearing. Isn't that weird? Well yes, but it's also #$(&@#)$(&@ arghhhhhhhhh, frightening as heck.


Global warming was more associated with glaciers melting, coastal flooding and:

  • 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 Independent
  • 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.

(See more at:

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