Friday, 7 November 2014

It's all in the name

What should we call the climate problem? We have ‘Global Warming’, but does this ignore other climatological changes? You could say ‘Climate Change’, probably the most popular but the earths climate has always changed, does this neglect human influence? Human-driven or anthropogenic Climate Change starts to get a little wordy. Skeptical Science notes that both terms refer to different aspects in the scientific literature and can also have different impacts. With climate change a softer analogy than global warming. Although he concludes that the two are used interchangeably, polling in May suggests their impact may be more crucial than that. The Yale Climate Change Communication group (Leiserowitz et al 2014) found that not only are American’s more likely to have heard of global warming than climate change. Global warming is far more engaging a concept generating bad feelings among all groups. With climate change, often preferred by scientists, reducing issue engagement even amongst liberals who hold it close to their heart. This is backed up by Whitmarsh (2008), with the public showing more emotional but less accurate engagement with Global Warming instead of Climate Change. 

Maslin (2013) in an excellent paper on communicating uncertainty notes that of the top 10 Amazon books on Global warming 6 are by skeptics, whereas for climate change only 2 are. You can see this yourself by googling both terms and looking at the disparity in news headlines.
Milton Glaser's #itsnotwarmingitsdying logo. Aimed to draw attention to the ecological costs of climate change, but scientists have argued it is not accurate. The earth will not die but will certainly tip into a new system. This approach also neglects the human aspects of Climate Change and the potential social, economic and environmental benefits of mitigation. Image Courtesy of [7.11.14]

The debate on what to call the future of our climate has taking an even sharper turn recently with Milton Glaser, inventor of the ‘I love New York logo’, driving a rebrand. His #ItsNotWarmingItsDying campaign has been criticized by numerous activists and scientists for taking away credibility of the science debate. But as Whitmarsh notes, there is a trade-off between scientific accuracy and public engagement. Schuldt et al (2011) found using climate change led to less political polarisation than Global Warming, if using a particular term moves us closer to a solution isn't it worth sacrificing a modicum of accuracy. Scientists must strive to make their work more understandable to the masses, and whilst a small change the selection of either Global Warming or Climate change can greatly influence political and public engagement. Settling on one term would help reduce confusion and take power away from dangerous campaigns such as Milton Glaser's. 

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