Technically speaking, in the world of research and science, the phrase “global warming” is currently synonymous with the phrase “climate change” and there is no difference between the two. However, a recent study performed by Yale University researchers found that the two phrases carried much different connotations for many Americans. Researchers discovered that more people tend to perceive a threat when the discussion is centered on global warming than when the conversation is about climate change. In fact, people believe that the former phrase denotes a personal threat as well as an environmental threat and have more interest in having the issue addressed by the government.
Internet searches also validate this discovery. In the last 10 years, more people have searched for phrases that contain both the word warming and the word global as opposed to the combination of words that include both climate and change. Other terms have also been used for both online searches and for referencing climate issues in the media. These terms include global heating and climate disruption as well as the original reference, which was the greenhouse effect. While all of these phrases mean the same thing, there is a perception of a fairly vast difference between the indication of climate change and that of global warming.
While it appears that many people are not overly concerned about a change in the climate, they do indicate that they would like to see action taken for the issue of warming on a global scale. It leads researchers to believe that much of the public does not understand that both phrases reference the same concept and information. A greater understanding in the public sector could be associated with utilizing the idea of the climate warming rather than just changing.
The public exhibits a higher level of emotional and social engagement when thinking about the climate as a warming trend than when it is simply thought of as a change. More national actions are requested and supported to alleviate a warming trend than for those issues which indicate only a climate change. Regardless of the fact that the two issues are identical, the perception of the issue in the minds of the public is what will drive any future change.
Men of Generation X, which encompasses those in the age group between 31 to 48, display a higher degree of certainty that warming on a global scale is happening rather than the idea that a phenomenon of worldwide climate change is occurring. Additionally, the change in terminology is responsible for the different levels of understanding and belief that humans and their activities are the cause of the change. A higher level of unease about the issues causing not just an environmental but also a personal threat has been documented as well. This especially holds true for women and for members of the group known as the “Greatest Generation,” which includes people over 68 years old.
The research suggests that in the minds of many people in America, there is a difference between global warming and climate change. While it appears that scientists prefer to use the phrase “climate change,” the study indicates that most people do not use the two terms interchangeably because they have different interpretations of each phrase. The bottom line appears to be that by naming the issue global warming, a higher level of negativity is associated with the problem. This negative connotation may generate a stronger show of support from the public sector when attempting to set new regulations to help alleviate the problem.
By Dee Mueller