Is it ‘Global Warming’ or is it ‘Climate Change’?

global warming

How do you describe the bizarre weather patterns and environmental issues sending our planet into a tailspin? Do you call it “global warming?” Or do you prefer “climate change?”

True story: Earlier this week over on our sister website, Organic Authority I had just finished up an article about the impact droughts are having on beef prices, causing the return of ‘pink slime.’ I cited global warming as the cause, per the information I was reporting on. Our Editor-in-Chief, Laura Klein, asked me to change it to ‘climate change’. “I feel that ‘global warming’ is a politically-charged phrase,” she wrote to me in an email, adding, “most of America still questions the validity of (whether it’s really happening or not), and the term ‘climate change’ to me feels like – it’s happening there’s no doubt, there’s no questioning that weather patterns are changing and the polar ice caps are melting.”

I let Laura know that the reason I prefer “global warming” is because of the emotions it triggers, and that the term “climate change” was the more politically charged one, having been first widely used by Republican strategist Frank Lutz. I am not a Republican. And I prefer to keep my political beliefs out of my semi-clean Los Angeles air and currently un-flooded home. (I’ll be open to political haranguing over our freaky weather problems if and when Sharknadoes start threatening my family.)

Laura and I agreed to disagree (and, ahem, to keep my job, I changed it to “climate change”). Then, not a day later, this study dropped into my inbox. We both had a good laugh over it, and we also realized it’s a pretty big discussion happening in our country: Is it “global warming” or is it “climate change?”

The report, called “What’s In A Name? Global Warming vs. Climate Change,” conducted by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication looked at both “climate change” and “global warming” and just how the American public views and uses these terms.

“Americans are 2 times more likely to say they personally use the term global warming than climate change in their own conversations,” the report noted, even though most Americans say they are equally familiar with both terms. In fact, the study found that Americans were four times more likely to say they hear the term “global warming” over “climate change” in public conversations.

The term “global warming” appears to be more strongly associated with a “greater certainty that the phenomenon is happening,” particularly among men, liberals, and 31-48-year-olds. Among independents and liberals, “global warming” is more often associated with the understanding of the (scientific) reality and urgency, and the personal threats as a result. People who favor “global warming” also seem to be more likely to be active in campaigns and efforts to address the issue.

“While for some in-the-know, the two phrases are often seen as synonymous,” reported EcoWatch, “the general public tends to favor the term ‘global warming’—and perhaps we should take note.”

But the climate deniers are still out there. “Big contenders with even bigger pocket books, like the Koch Brothers, are able to pump money into anti-climate campaigns, bills and agendas, drowning out the voices of scientists who continue to prove that climate change—or, global warming, rather—is real, caused in part by humans and happening right now,” noted EcoWatch.

Another client of mine recently asked me to delete copy from a paper that referenced global warming as a cause for supporting organic farming. They found that much of their audience, sadly, still doesn’t believe there’s enough evidence to support the claims, even despite the recent comprehensive White House report, and the recent news about the West Antarctic glacier melting “past a point of no return,” which will lead to rising sea levels by as much as four feet in the very near future, say experts.

Is the term “climate change” too soft, too disarming to ignite the immediate, urgent changes we need to make in order to protect our environment and our species from going extinct? Granted, debating over what to call this situation is precious time we could all be spending doing something about the effects these weather fluctuations are having on our present and our future. But there’s something to be said for consensus reality and coming to an agreement about this major shift to the planet. Our perceptions about the world we share play as significant a role in shaping our future as our actions do. Assuming we have a hospitable future on Earth, that is.

Find Jill on Twitter @jillettinger

Related on EcoSalon

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Global Warming Gets a Titanic Wake-Up Call: James Cameron’s Eco Documentary

The Coming Global Water Crisis And 3 Ways To Deal With It

Image via Yale Project on Climate Change Communication


Jill Ettinger

Jill Ettinger is a Los Angeles-based journalist and editor focused on the global food system and how it intersects with our cultural traditions, diet preferences, health, and politics. She is the senior editor for sister websites and, and works as a research associate and editor with the Cornucopia Institute, the organic industry watchdog group. Jill has been featured in The Huffington Post, MTV, Reality Sandwich, and Eat Drink Better.