Like the Eveready battery in the TV commercial, this one just keeps coming back: What to call it? “Global warming”? Or “climate change”?
It’s more than merely an academic question given the baggage that goes with each term, depending on where one sits on the issue overall.
Writing on the 2014 Gallup Environment Poll, long-time climate watcher and Oklahoma State University sociology professor Riley Dunlap, “Gallup Scholar for Environment,” suggests that the climate change vs. global warming debate is becoming somewhat passé. The principal reason: “Both terms have become politically polarized,” and the scientific community’s move to “climate change” is “unlikely to lower the current high level of political divergence in reaction to the findings of climate science.” As a result, the well-known Dunlap wrote on April 22, Earth Day, those arguing that proponents of climate action use the term climate change, and not global warming, “may be mistaken.”
The annual Gallup poll on environment this year used both terms to measure respondents’ personal worry about each. They generally responded “in a similar fashion.”
Self-identified Democrats were, as has been the case in previous survey work, considerably more likely than Republicans to say they worry “a great deal” about global warming — 56 percent for Democrats and 16 percent for Republicans. The gaps were comparable when the question focused on climate change. Independents were consistently closer to Republicans, Riley noted. When questioned by political ideology rather than party identification, self-identified liberals, to no one’s surprise, were far more likely than conservatives to worry “a great deal.” Those identifying as moderates were closer to liberals on this measure.
The Gallup 2014 Environment results in the end “indicate that Republicans and conservatives are currently reacting to the two terms in a relatively similar manner, but the experimental data suggest that Democrats and, to a lesser degree, liberals express more concern over global warming.”
So where does that leave things for those interested in effective climate communications to the greatest numbers? For some, “between a rock and a hard place” may come to mind. Maybe the public, writ large, will come up with a politically sterile term of their own.