At a glance – Global warming vs climate change
Posted on 31 October 2023 by John Mason, BaerbelW
On February 14, 2023 we announced our Rebuttal Update Project. This included an ask for feedback about the added “At a glance” section in the updated basic rebuttal versions. This weekly blog post series highlights this new section of one of the updated basic rebuttal versions and serves as a “bump” for our ask. This week features “Global warming vs climate change“. More will follow in the upcoming weeks. Please follow the Further Reading link at the bottom to read the full rebuttal and to join the discussion in the comment thread there.
At a glance
Have you heard this one? The quote above may be from Trump (a March 2013 tweet) but it’s a really common talking-point. It’s also utterly meaningless. Firstly, we have the arm-wavy word, “they”. Who are ‘they’? The United Nations? Greenpeace? The Democrats? Who are ‘they’? Let’s take a look: depending on your politics you might be surprised.
In the past, global warming and climate change were both in regular use. For example, the landmark 1956 paper that summed up all the accumulated knowledge of the past 100 years was called, “The Carbon Dioxide Theory of Climatic Change”. So both terms have been around for ages. In fact, they mean slightly different things. ‘Warming’ means a rising temperature whilst ‘climate’ encompasses a lot more issues, such as how wet or dry it is. But who are ‘they’?
Step forward Republican advisor and strategist Frank Luntz. Here’s the background. In 2002, prior to the midterms, the G.W. Bush administration – not exactly famous for its environmental track-record – sought advice on policy communication. Regarding the climate, Luntz commented thus:
“The scientific debate is closing [against us] but not yet closed. There is still a window of opportunity to challenge the science.”
Uh-oh. Look out, reality ahead. Evasive action required! Luntz went on to advise:
“The terminology in the upcoming environmental debate needs refinement, starting with “global warming” and ending with “environmentalism.” It’s time for us to start talking about “climate change” instead of global warming and “conservation” instead of preservation”.
The briefing went on to justify the suggested changes:
““Climate change” is less frightening than “global warming.” As one focus group participant noted, climate change “sounds like you’re going from Pittsburgh to Fort Lauderdale.” While global warming has catastrophic connotations attached to it, climate change suggests a more controllable and less emotional challenge.”
So there you have it. The only recorded political move to emphasise the term, ‘climate change’, over ‘global warming’ was to try and make the latter feel a bit cuddly to prospective Republican voters in 2002. Who are ‘they’? ‘They’ were the Republicans.
But next time you run into someone trying to suggest this ‘change’ happened much more recently, you have now got the name of the 1956 paper to mention. If that’s not enough, you can also ask them what “CC” stands for in IPCC. It stands for climate change and the IPCC was founded in 1988, fully 35 years ago at the time of writing. Like all climate science denial talking-points, a little scrutiny is all that is needed and they fall down flat. In this case, even less scrutiny than usual!
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