“Global Warming” Scarier Than “Climate Change”

What's in a name? A lot, actually


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Experts on climate change communications from Yale and George Mason University released findings yesterday that the average American is more likely to be worried about “global warming” than about “climate change.” As the Guardian reports, researchers surveyed 1,675 people during a two-week period late last year and found that “global warming” was 13 percent more likely to be viewed as a “bad thing.” The survey results were even more dramatic among specific ethnicities, with 30 percent of participating Latinos and 20 percent of African Americans viewing “global warming” as a more serious threat than “climate change.”

This distinction is especially relevant in political rhetoric, and you don’t have to be Noam Chomsky to understand that the language you use to describe certain phenomena can have a tremendous impact on furthering a specific agenda. Sometimes you can just be Frank Luntz. In 2002, acting as a Republican political consultant, Luntz advised George W. Bush to excise “global warming” from his presidential lexicon due to the phrase’s ominous connotations. In a secret memo, Luntz wrote, “It’s time for us to start talking about ‘climate change’ instead of global warming … ‘climate change’ is less frightening than ‘global warming.'”

If global warming—or climate change—has you on edge, you might want to plan a trip to Providence, Rhode Island. Local resident Kate Schapira has set up a booth in Burnside Park offering “Climate Anxiety Counseling” for five cents. Her “The Doctor Is In” sign is an homage to Lucy from Peanuts, though prospective patients might find Schapira to be a better listener than the sassy purveyor of Sisyphean football torture.

“I didn’t want to do nothing,” Schapira said. “I wanted to amplify my thoughts on it and wanted to know other people’s thoughts on it—if they are worried or scared.”

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