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

Rising Temperatures

Rising Temperatures

The Greenhouse Effect

The Greenhouse Effect

Human Causes

Human Causes

When people hear climate change, they think of

Wetter Winters

Wetter Winters

Drier Summers

Drier Summers

Natural Causes

Natural Causes

Conservatives respond more favorably to the term climate change. Progressives respond similarly to both terms. (Schuldt, Konrath, & Schwarz, 2011). 


The Language of Climate Advocacy


Green Energy.jpg

People approach goals differently. Some care about advancement. They want to maximize gains. They respond to words like

  • Promote

  • Advance

  • Attain

  • Nurture

Others care about preservation. They want to minimize losses. They respond to words like

  • Protect

  • Preserve

  • Defend

  • Maintain

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).

Let’s find a way to preserve the environment, to meet our international responsibilities, to meet our responsibilities to our children and grow the economy at the same time.
— Bill Clinton




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.

I’ve cared for many patients over the years who have suffered from asthma and have seen firsthand how frightening it can be to suddenly be wheezing and fighting for every breath... Asthma can be very difficult for patients, but also for their families. The impacts of climate change could make the situation worse.
— Dr. Vivek Murthy, former Surgeon General



Solar Panels.jpg

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).

It’s all of our responsibility to leave this planet in better shape for the future generations than we found it.
— Mike Huckabee

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).

This plan cuts carbon pollution by building a clean energy economy—using more clean energy, less dirty energy, and wasting less energy throughout our economy.
— Barack Obama



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).

Our armed forces must prepare for a future with a wide spectrum of possible threats, weighing risks and probabilities to ensure that we will continue to keep our country secure.
— Chuck Hagel, Former Secretary of Defense,



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."

The Earth is in peril is because of individual actions—by me, by you, by the person sitting next to you, by the person you bump into on the street. The bad news is that when we put all those individual actions together, it becomes one huge number—big enough to change climate, big enough to change how Earth supports life. The good news... is that, just as the problem is the sum of what each one of us is doing, so is fixing the problem.
— Anthony Barnosky, Professor of Integrative Biology, U.C. Berkeley

2) Speak in terms of your values. Climate change is a moral issue. We have a responsibility to protect those who are most vulnerable.

Part of the American ethos is that you want to leave something better for your kids than you had, and I know that my parents felt that way, and I know that my grandparents felt that way, and everybody worked hard so that their kids had a better chance. I just don’t want to be the first generation that doesn’t do that.
— Matt Damon

3) Use words that everyone can understand. Ground your language in real human experience.

We’re changing the climate faster than our culture may be able to respond... You melt ice caps, then water levels rise. Not inches, not feet, but tens of feet, and that will begin to flood coastlines. Some of the most important cities of the world were built on coastlines for the very reason that that’s how you accomplish trade. It’s what made those ports successful.
— Neil deGrasse Tyson

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 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.