What’s in a name? Global warming versus climate change

The terms ‘global warming’ and ‘climate change’ are pretty interchangeable in most articles, but what if your choice of words changes the way people react?

We all strive to communicate effectively about global warming through knowing our audience, and having values-based conversations. This research can tell you whether it’s better to use the term ‘global warming’ or ‘climate change’.

Across the research, people found the term global warming more evocative, and Americans were two times more likely to say they used the term global warming themselves in conversations.

Global warming made people think more about negative effects like melting glaciers, flooding and alarm.

Climate change made people think more about weather and storms and general patterns.

The term global warming gave greater certainty that it’s happening, there’s scientific consensus, and humans are the cause.

Global warming gave people a greater sense of personal threat and threat to ones family and that people in the U.S. are being harmed now.

Interestingly, the term global warming made people support a large or small-scale effort by the U.S., while the term climate change made people support a medium-scale effort, especially with Republicans.

The terms mean different things to Americans and the use of climate change appears to reduce the engagement of Democrats, Independents, liberals and moderates.

However, the research notes that meanings and connotations are dynamic and can change and that eventually climate change and global warming will become synonymous for most people. But in the mean time, there are different connotations for different segments of the U.S. that communicators need to be aware of.

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