It’s all in a name: ‘Global warming’ vs. ‘climate change’

ANN ARBOR, Mich.—Many Americans are skeptical about whether the world’s weather is changing, but apparently the degree of skepticism varies systematically depending on what that change is called.

According to a University of Michigan study published in the forthcoming issue of Public Opinion Quarterly, more people believe in “climate change” than in “global warming.”

“Wording matters,” said Jonathon Schuldt, the lead author of the article about the study and a doctoral candidate in the U-M Department of Psychology.

Schuldt co-authored the study with U-M psychologists Sara Konrath and Norbert Schwarz. For the research, they conducted a question wording experiment in the American Life Panel, an online survey conducted by RAND, with a national sample of 2,267 U.S. adults. Participants were asked to report their level of certainty about whether global climate change is a serious problem. In the following question, half the participants heard one version, half heard the other:

“You may have heard about the idea that the world’s temperature may have been going up [changing] over the past 100 years, a phenomenon sometimes called ‘global warming’ [‘climate change’]. What is your personal opinion regarding whether or not this has been happening?

Overall, 74 percent of people thought the problem was real when it was referred to as climate change, while about 68 percent thought it was real when it was referred to as global warming.

These different levels of belief may stem from the different associations carried by the two terms, Schuldt said. “While global warming focuses attention on temperature increases, climate change focuses attention on more general changes,” he said. “Thus, an unusually cold day may increase doubts about global warming more so than about climate change. Given these different associations and the partisan nature of this issue, climate change believers and skeptics might be expected to vary in their use of these terms.”

As part of the study, the researchers also analyzed the use of these two terms on political think tank websites, finding that liberals and conservatives used different terms. Conservative think tanks tend to call the phenomenon global warming, while liberal think tanks call it climate change.

And when the researchers analyzed responses to the survey by political orientation, they found that the different overall levels in belief were driven almost entirely by participants who identified themselves as Republicans. While 60 percent of Republicans reported that they thought climate change was real, for example, only 44 percent said they believed in the reality of global warming.

In contrast, about 86 percent of Democrats thought climate change was a serious problem, no matter what it was called. Why weren’t they influenced by question wording? “It might be a ceiling effect, given their high level of belief,” Konrath said. “Or it could be that Democrats’ beliefs about global climate change might be more crystallized, and as a result, more protected from subtle manipulations.”

The good news is that Americans may not be as polarized on the issue as previously thought. “The extent of the partisan divide on this issue depends heavily on question wording,” said Schwarz, who is also affiliated with the U-M Ross Business School and the Institute of Social Research (ISR). “When the issue is framed as global warming, the partisan divide is nearly 42 percentage points. But when the frame is climate change, the partisan divide drops to about 26 percentage points.”

For a free reprint from the journal’s online depository:
http://poq.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/reprint/nfq073?ijkey=YcGpwzhzykOYkl7&keytype=ref

U-M Sustainability fosters a more sustainable world through collaborations across campus and beyond aimed at educating students, generating new knowledge, and minimizing our environmental footprint. Learn more at sustainability.umich.edu

1 thought on “It’s all in a name: ‘Global warming’ vs. ‘climate change’”

  1. Is the Proposed Trans Global Highway a solution for population concerns and global warming?
    One tremendous solution to future population concerns as well as alleviating many of the effects of potential global warming is the proposal for the construction of the “Trans Global Highway”. The proposed Trans Global Highway would create a world wide network of standardized roads, railroads, water pipe lines, oil and gas pipelines, electrical and communication cables. The result of this remarkable, far sighted project will be global unity through far better distribution of resources, including including heretofore difficult to obtain or unaccessible raw materials, fresh water, finished products and vastly lower global transportation costs.
    With greatly expanded global fresh water distribution, arid lands could be cultivated resulting in a huge abundance of global food supplies. The most conservative estimate is that with the construction of the Trans Global Highway, the planet will be able to feed between 14 and 16 Billion people, just using presently available modern farming technologies. With a present global population of just under 7 billion people and at the United Nations projection of population increase, the world will produce enough food surpluses to feed the expected increased population for the next 425 years. Thomas Robert Malthus’s famous dire food shortage predictions of 1798 failed to take into consideration modern advances in farming, transportation, food storage and food abundance. Further information on the proposed Trans Global Highway can be found at http://www.TransGlobalHighway.com .

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Get more stuff like this
in your inbox

From anti-aging to the search for alien life, we promise to never bore.