NewEnergyNews: TODAY’S STUDY: GLOBAL WARMING IS WORSE THAN CLIMATE CHANGE?

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    Wednesday, June 11, 2014

    TODAY’S STUDY: GLOBAL WARMING IS WORSE THAN CLIMATE CHANGE?

    What’s In A Name? Global Warming Versus Climate Change

    May 2014 (Yale Project on Climate Change Communication and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication)

    Executive Summary

    This report provides results from three studies that collectively find that global warming and climate change are often not synonymous—they mean different things to different people—and activate different sets of beliefs, feelings, and behaviors, as well as different degrees of urgency about the need to respond.

    1) An analysis of public information seeking via Google searches from 2004 to 2014 found that Americans have historically used global warming as a search term much more frequently than climate change.

    2) A nationally representative survey (Survey Study 1) in January 2014 found that while Americans are equally familiar with the two terms, they are 4 times more likely to say they hear the term global warming in public discourse than climate change. Likewise, Americans are 2 times more likely to say they personally use the term global warming than climate change in their own conversations.

    3) A separate nationally representative survey (Survey Study 2) in November-December 2013 found that almost without exception, global warming is more engaging than climate change. Compared to climate change, the term global warming generates:

    • Stronger ratings of negative affect (i.e., bad feelings), especially among women, Generation Y, the Greatest Generation, African-Americans, Hispanics, Democrats, Independents, Moderates, conservatives, and evangelicals. • Different top of mind associations and stronger negative affect, especially among political moderates: o Overall, global warming generates significantly more top of mind associations to Icemelt (e.g., “melting glaciers”), Alarm (e.g., “world catastrophe”), Flood (e.g., “coastal flooding”), and Ozone (e.g., “the ozone hole”) categories. Climate change generates significantly more associations to Weather (e.g., “storms”) and Global Warming (e.g., “global warming”) categories. o 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. • Greater certainty that the phenomenon is happening, especially among men, Generation X, and liberals.

    • Greater understanding that human activities are the primary cause among Independents. • Greater understanding of the scientific consensus among Independents and liberals. • More intense worry about the issue, especially among men, Generation Y, Generation X, Democrats, liberals and moderates. • A greater sense of personal threat, especially among women, the Greatest Generation, African-Americans, Hispanics, Democrats, Independents, Republicans, liberals and moderates. • A greater sense of threat to one’s own family, especially among women, Generation Y, African-Americans, Hispanics, Democrats, Independents, and Republicans. • A greater sense of threat to future generations among Independents and Generation Y. • A greater sense that people in the U.S. are being harmed right now, especially among Independents, Generation Y, and Hispanics. • Stronger belief that weather in the U.S. is being affected a lot, especially among Independents and Republicans. • Higher issue priority ratings for action by the president and Congress, especially among women, Democrats, liberals and moderates. • Greater support for a large or small-scale effort by the U.S. (although climate change generates more support for a medium-scale effort, especially among Republicans). • Greater willingness to join a campaign to convince elected officials to take action, especially among men, Generation X, liberals and moderates.

    These diverse results strongly suggest that global warming and climate change are used differently and mean different things in the minds of many Americans. Scientists often prefer the term climate change for technical reasons, but should be aware that the two terms generate different interpretations among the general public and specific subgroups. Some issue advocates have argued that the term climate change is more likely to engage Republicans in the issue, however, the evidence from these studies suggests that in general the terms are synonymous for Republicans – i.e., neither term is more engaging than the other, although in several cases, global warming generates stronger feelings of negative affect and stronger perceptions of personal and familial threat among Republicans; they are also more likely to believe that global warming is already affecting weather in the United States.

    By contrast, 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. In several cases, the differences in the effect of the two terms are large. For example, African Americans (+20 percentage points) and Hispanics (+22) are much more likely to rate global warming as a “very bad thing” than climate change. Generation X (+21) and liberals (+19) are much more likely to be certain global warming is happening. African-Americans (+22) and Hispanics (+30) are much more likely to perceive global warming as a personal threat, or that it will harm their own family (+19 and +31, respectively). Hispanics (+28) are much more likely to say global warming is already harming people in the United States right now. And Generation X (+19) is more likely to be willing to join a campaign to convince elected officials to take action to reduce global warming than climate change.

    It is important to note, however, that connotative meanings are dynamic and change, sometimes rapidly. It is possible that with repeated use, climate change will come to acquire similar connotative meanings as global warming, that the two will eventually become synonymous for most people, or that climate change will supplant global warming as the dominant term in public discourse. In the meantime, however, the results of these studies strongly suggest that the two terms continue to mean different things to many Americans.

    Introduction

    What do the terms “global warming” and “climate change” mean to the American public? Are they synonyms? Does the public see and use each term equally? Do they interpret and respond to the two terms in the same way? Or do they view and respond to each term differently? When communicators use these two terms, how do different audiences interpret them? Over the years, these questions have generated much debate and controversy in the media and among scientists, educators, political analysts, advocates and citizens.

    This report investigates these question in detail, drawing upon three related studies, including a recent national survey of Americans, in which half the sample was randomly assigned to a questionnaire measuring Americans’ beliefs, attitudes, policy support and behaviors using the term global warming, while the other half was randomly assigned to a questionnaire with identical questions, except using the term climate change.

    The studies found that the two terms are often not synonymous—they mean different things to different people—and activate different sets of beliefs, feelings, and behaviors, as well as different degrees of urgency about the need to respond…

    Summary & Discussion

    These studies found that global warming and climate change are often not synonymous—they mean different things to different people and activate different sets of beliefs, feelings, and behaviors, as well as different degrees of urgency about the need to respond.

    An analysis of Google searches from 2004 to 2014 found that Americans have historically used global warming as a search term much more frequently than climate change.

    A nationally representative survey (Survey Study 1) in January 2014 found that while Americans are equally familiar with the two terms, they are 4 times more likely to say they hear the term global warming in public discourse than climate change. Likewise, Americans are 2 times more likely to say they personally use the term global warming than climate change in their own conversations.

    A separate nationally representative survey (Survey Study 2) in November-December 2013 found that almost without exception, global warming is more engaging than climate change. Compared to climate change, the term global warming generates:

    • Stronger ratings of negative affect (i.e., bad feelings), especially among women, Generation Y, the Greatest Generation, African-Americans, Hispanics, Democrats, Independents, Moderates, conservatives, and evangelicals. • Different top of mind associations and stronger negative affect, especially among political moderates: o Overall, global warming generates significantly more top of mind associations to Icemelt (e.g., “melting glaciers”), Alarm (e.g., “world catastrophe”), Flood (e.g., “coastal flooding”), and Ozone (e.g., “the ozone hole”) categories. Climate change generates significantly more associations to Weather (e.g., “storms”) and Global Warming (e.g., “global warming”) categories. o 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. • Greater certainty that the phenomenon is happening, especially among men, Generation X, and liberals. • Greater understanding that human activities are the primary cause among Independents. • Greater understanding of the scientific consensus among Independents and liberals. • More intense worry about the issue, especially among men, Generation Y, Generation X, Democrats, liberals and moderates.

    • A greater sense of personal threat, especially among women, the Greatest Generation, African-Americans, Hispanics, Democrats, Independents, Republicans, liberals and moderates. • A greater sense of threat to one’s own family, especially among women, Generation Y, African-Americans, Hispanics, Democrats, Independents, and Republicans. • A greater sense of threat to future generations among Independents and Generation Y. • A greater sense that people in the U.S. are being harmed right now, especially among Independents, Generation Y, and Hispanics. • Stronger belief that weather in the U.S. is being affected a lot, especially among Independents and Republicans. • Higher issue priority ratings for action by the president and Congress, especially among women, Democrats, liberals and moderates. • Greater support for a large or small-scale effort by the U.S. (although climate change generates more support for a medium-scale effort, especially among Republicans). • Greater willingness to join a campaign to convince elected officials to take action, especially among men, Generation X, liberals and moderates.

    These diverse results strongly suggest that global warming and climate change are used differently and mean different things in the minds of many Americans. Scientists often prefer the term climate change for technical reasons, but should be aware that the two terms generate different interpretations among the general public and specific subgroups. Some issue advocates have argued that the term climate change is more likely to engage Republicans in the issue, however, the evidence from these studies suggests that in general the terms are synonymous for Republicans – i.e., neither term is more engaging than the other, although in several cases, global warming generates stronger feelings of negative affect and stronger perceptions of personal and familial threat among Republicans; they are also more likely to believe that global warming is already affecting weather in the United States.

    By contrast, 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. In several cases, the differences in the effect of the two terms are large. For example, African Americans (+20 percentage points) and Hispanics (+22) are much more likely to rate global warming as a “very bad thing” than climate change. Generation X (+21) and liberals (+19) are much more likely to be certain global warming is happening. African-Americans (+22) and Hispanics (+30) are much more likely to perceive global warming as a personal threat, or that it will harm their own family (+19 and +31, respectively). Hispanics (+28) are much more likely to say global warming is already harming people in the United States right now. And Generation X (+19) is more likely to be willing to join a campaign to convince elected officials to take action to reduce global warming than climate change.

    It is important to note, however, that connotative meanings are dynamic and change, sometimes rapidly. It is possible that with repeated use, climate change will come to acquire similar connotative meanings as global warming, that the two will eventually become synonymous for most people, or that climate change will supplant global warming as the dominant term in public discourse. In the meantime, however, the results of these studies strongly suggest that the two terms continue to mean different things to many Americans. As Kathleen Hall Jamieson and Paul Waldman argue in their analysis of media coverage of political affairs:

    Language choices not only reflect individual disposition but influence the course of policy as well. Tax cuts or tax relief? Religious or faith-based? Death penalty or execution? Estate tax or death tax? Civilian deaths or collateral damage? In the early stages of almost any policy debate, one can find a battle over which terms will be chosen. Because the terms we use to describe the world determine the ways we see it, those who control the language control the argument, and those who control the argument are more likely to successfully translate belief into policy.

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