“Global Warming” vs. “Climate Change”

Villar, A., & Krosnick, J. A. (2011). Global warming vs. climate change, taxes vs. prices: Does word choice matter? Climate Change, 105, 1-12.

Does the public react to the terms “global warming” and “climate change” differently? Political strategists have suggested that “climate change” is perceived as less threatening than “global warming.” In a survey of Americans and Europeans from 25 European Union countries, Villar and Krosnick (2011) asked participants to rate the seriousness of either “global warming” or “climate change.” In contrast to expectations, climate change was not perceived as less serious than global warming, for the majority of Americans and Europeans. For Europeans and American Independents, both terms were considered equally serious. American Democrats considered “global warming” to be more serious than “climate change,” whereas American Republicans considered “climate change” to be more serious than “global warming.” The survey given to American participants also examined whether support for legislation addressing climate change varied if the resultant changes in the cost of gasoline were described as higher “taxes” vs. “prices.” This portion of the study yielded similar results, contrary to political strategy, word choice did not uniformly affect participants’ responses. This study provided valuable information about the role of language in shaping responses to policy and suggested a level of complexity beyond the choice of a single term.

Making Connections

Language and thought
Linguistic relativity

Media Supplement

Cognitive linguist George Lakoff discusses how language shapes thinking about climate change in the NPR podcast Linguist Weighs In On Framing Climate Change.