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What’s in a Name? Global Warming vs. Climate Change in the Eyes of the American Public

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The term “global warming” resonates far more powerfully, triggering images of ice melt, extreme weather and catastrophe. Mention “climate change”, however, and many Americans begin to disengage, the researchers found.

The researchers found naming the issue as “global warming” rather than climate change made it easier to connect. Americans in general were 13% more likely to say that global warming was a bad thing.

The differences were even more pronounced among Latinos, African-Americans, women, and young people.

Latinos were 30% more likely to view global warming as a personal threat, compared to climate change. African-Americans were 20% more likely to rate global warming as a very big risk, compared to climate change.

George W Bush swapped the term climate change for global warming in 2002, on the advice of the Republican political consultant, Frank Luntz.

In a secret memo before the mid-term elections, Luntz warned Republicans – and Bush in particular – were singularly weak on the environment. He advised a strategy of disputing climate science, and of avoiding the term “global warming’ because of its highly negative connotations.

“It’s time for us to start talking about ‘climate change’ instead of global warming … ‘climate change’ is less frightening than ‘global warming’,” said the memo obtained by the Environmental Working Group.

The confusion stuck.

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