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Climate Change vs. Global Warming: How Politics Created a New Term

Climate Change vs. Global Warming: How Politics Created a New Term
GOSAT, the Greenhouse Gas Observing Satellite. (MCT/Landov, file)  

By    |   Friday, 14 November 2014 08:45 PM

Political maneuvering triggered the ongoing debate over the use of the scientific terms "climate change" vs. "global warming."

Though people often use the phrases interchangeably, they mean different things.

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NASA defines global warming as the increase the Earth has seen in its average surface temperatures due to rising levels of greenhouse gases. It says climate change is a long-term change of the climate of the Earth or one of its regions.

Global warming quickly became the dominant popular term after NASA scientist James E. Hansen used it in June 1988 while presenting dramatic testimony to Congress.

The media "leaped on the story" after Hansen said he was 99 percent sure a long-term, worldwide warming trend was underway and suspected the greenhouse effect was responsible, the American Institute of Physics said.

A subsequent September 1988 poll found 58 percent of Americans recalled having heard or read about the greenhouse effect, up from 38 percent in 1981 and an extraordinarily high level of public awareness for any scientific phenomenon, according to the AIP. The topic of global warming subsequently became increasingly more politicized.

The term climate change came into wider use around 2002, perhaps because of a secret memo to President George W. Bush’s administration written by Republican pollster and strategist Frank Luntz.

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A 2014 Yale University report said Luntz conducted focus group sessions looking at the topic and suggested shortly before the 2002 elections that Republicans, who were trying to downplay the threat of global warming, replace that with the less-threatening term "climate change."

The latter term has actually been around longer, with climate change dating to a 1956 study by physicist Gilbert Plass and global warming to a 1975 article by geochemist Wallace Broeckner.

After receiving Luntz's memo, Bush shifted in environmental speeches from using the term global warming to climate change.

However, the Yale report said more recent research indicates conservative think tanks trying to downplay the threat now more commonly use the term global warming while liberal think tanks seeking to emphasize it more frequently use climate change.

Efforts by believers to distance themselves from the term global warming were illustrated by White House science adviser John Holdren’s recommendation in a 2010 speech that people instead use the term "global climate disruption."

Holdren said he feared the term global warming oversimplified the problem and made it sound less dangerous than it really was.

Republican pollster Adam Geller told Fox News in reply that global warming believers were simply "trying to come up with more politically palatable ways" to make their case. He said their use of that term made them an easy target for ridicule in times of wintry weather.

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Political maneuvering triggered the ongoing debate over the use of the scientific terms "climate change" vs. "global warming."
climate change, vs, global warming, politics, term
Friday, 14 November 2014 08:45 PM
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