What is climate change and global warming?
Americans are more concerned about the changing planet when the words "global warming" are used than when they hear "climate change, " new research finds.
The two terms are often used synonymously, but new surveys reveal that they carry different connotations for many people, particularly African Americans, Hispanic Americans, liberals and people between the ages of 31 and 48. Republicans see the two terms as more or less equivalent, but Democrats, political independents, liberals and moderates are more likely to express concern about "global warming" than "climate change."
"The studies found that the two terms are often not synonymous — they mean different things to different people — and activate different sets of beliefs, feelings and behaviors, as well as different degrees of urgency about the need to respond, " the researchers wrote in a report released today (May 27). [8 Ways Global Warming Is Already Changing the World]
A history of two terms
The term "climate change" is about 20 years older than the term "global warming." Wallace Broecker, a geoscientist at Columbia University known as the "Grandfather of Climate Science, " coined the latter term in 1975. Even for scientists, the two terms have different definitions.
"Global warming refers to the increase in the Earth's average surface temperature since the Industrial Revolution, primarily due to the emission of greenhouse gases from the burning of fossil fuels and land-use change, " Yale University researcher Anthony Leiserowitz and colleagues wrote in the new report, "whereas climate change refers to the long-term change of the Earth's climate, including changes in temperature, precipitation and wind patterns over a period of several decades or longer."
A Google Trends graph showing searches for "climate change" and "global warming" over time.
Credit: Google Trends
Many media outlets use the terms interchangeably, and both terms have become politicized. In 2002, Republican strategist Frank Luntz suggested that the George W. Bush administration use the words "climate change" rather than "global warming, " because climate change seemed less emotional, and more controllable. Now, however, conservatives tend to use the words "global warming" more, while liberals prefer "climate change, " according to a 2011 analysis published in the journal Public Opinion Quarterly.
Google Trends reveals that, historically, Internet users have searched more for "global warming" than "climate change, " but the gap has closed in the past couple of years.
Warming or change?
Leiserowitz, who heads the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication, and his colleagues commissioned two national surveys to find out how Americans respond to each term today. One of the surveys, conducted in January, was based on a nationally representative sample of 1, 021 adults. The other, conducted in November and December 2013, was based on a nationally representative sample of 1, 657 adults.
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What causes the problem of global climate change?
Earth's climate has changed numerous times in ages past. One fascinating, fairly recent example was known as the Azolla Event, as a freshwater arctic fern sequestered gigatons of atmospheric carbon onto the ocean floor. This drop in greenhouse gas plunged earth into an ice age.
Currently scientists estimate as much as 5% of current global climate change is due to natural varying conditions. Sometimes it is a little bit warmer, sometimes cooler. That's just weather cycles. The remaining 95%+ they have pretty well determined is due to industrious humans liberating 30 billion tons of CO2 …
What activities cause global climate change?
The burning of fossil fuels (coal, oil and natural gas) and deforestation (cutting down trees which previously removed carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere).