Global Warming vs. Climate Change
We often use “global warming” and “climate change” interchangeably, but these terms have two distinct meanings (Conway, 2008).
Global Warming describes the increase in the average surface temperature of the Earth.
Climate Change describes the long-term effect on the Earth’s climate (more frequent and intense heat waves, storms and droughts).
These terms also call to mind different ideas (Whitmarsh, 2009). When people hear global warming, they think of
When people hear climate change, they think of
Conservatives respond more favorably to the term climate change. Progressives respond similarly to both terms. (Schuldt, Konrath, & Schwarz, 2011).
The Language of Climate Advocacy
People approach goals differently. Some care about advancement. They want to maximize gains. They respond to words like
Others care about preservation. They want to minimize losses. They respond to words like
Speak to both kinds of people. Talk about the opportunity to advance green energy, but also about the need to preserve our health and safety (Cesario, Grant, & Higgins, 2004).
Talk about public health: growing threats from asthma, allergies, and infectious diseases as a result of climate change. These are problems that we can all relate to (Maibach, Nisbet, Baldwin, Akerlof, & Diao, 2010). And, they are problems Americans rarely associate with climate change (Leiserowitz, 2005). People will feel more motivated to take action when they understand the personal implications. Moreover, both progressive and conservatives can get behind public health.
It's not about money. Dealing with climate change is about protecting our kids, preserving nature and building a more sustainable world. If you try to put a price on a mild climate, that will actually make people feel less motivated to take action (McCauley, 2006).
Describe carbon emissions as "carbon pollution." Carbon pollution suggests dirt, illness and threats to health. Describe renewable energy as "clean energy." Clean energy triggers associations with health, life and vitality (See Marshall, 2014).
Prepare. Don't adapt. Because climate change is already underway, governments must take steps to prepare for drought, floods, severe storms and sea-level rise. Preparation implies action, that humans can take steps to guard their safety in the face of climate change. Adaptation suggests there is nothing that can be done (ecoAmerica, 2013).
When talking about climate change, always do the following (Lakoff, 2010):
1) Tell stories. We use stories to make sense of information. So don’t just list numbers. Find a narrative that shows why those numbers are significant. As Phillip Pullman says, "After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world."
2) Speak in terms of your values. Climate change is a moral issue. We have a responsibility to protect those who are most vulnerable.
3) Use words that everyone can understand. Ground your language in real human experience.
4) Don't repeat the language of climate deniers. Doing so just reinforces their message. If you are confronted with accusations of "hoax," "conspiracy" or "global cooling," brush them aside and focus on the facts.
CLIMATE-DENYING FAUX SCIENTIST
Climate change is a hoax. It's all part a vast left-wing conspiracy to dismantle the economy and install a global government.
Take it easy, Climate-Denying Faux Scientist. This is just common sense. We're digging up dirty fuels like oil and coal and dumping them into the air we breathe. Now we've got more asthma, allergies and lung disease as a result.