Of moles and whacking: “Alarmists stopped using global warming in favor of climate change”

NASA’s shiny JPL climate change site has a new post up that does a decent if incomplete job of pushing back against this particular myth.

Image from NASA JPL’s Global Climate Change site

It hits the right initial points, giving a brief background on the usage of the terms. Climate change and global warming have both been used to describe what is happening, from Wally Broecker’s 1975 Science article “Climatic Change: Are We on the Brink of a Pronounced Global Warming?”, to the 1979 Charney Report, (I would add as well the 1988 creation of the IPCC and the 1992 creation of the UNFCCC, both of which have “climate change” in their names).

This is of course the case because there are anthropogenic changes to the climate apart from increased surface warming (e.g. aerosol and particulate cooling, ocean acidification), and anthropogenic warming affects changes to the climate beyond increased surface temperatures (e.g. changes in precipitation norms).

However, this isn’t the whole story. The thrust of the denialist claim (e.g. here) is that there has been a recent shifting of definitions on the part of the scientific community for alarmist, politicized purposes, i.e. to enable any anomalous weather to be attributed to anthropogenic influence, including alleged current “global cooling”.

In fact there was a recent, concerted effort to shift from using “global warming” to “climate change” for political purposes. It did not come from the climate science community, however, but rather from the outgoing Bush administration. In a delightfully-Orwellian 2002 strategy memo entitled “Straight Talk”, Republican pollster Frank Luntz offered a number of opinions on how Republicans could “win the fight” on the environment in the arena of public opinion, in the  section “The Environment: A Cleaner, Safer, Healthier America“.

Under the heading “Conclusion: Redefining Labels”, the Luntz memo explicitly advises switching from “global warming” to “climate change”, because “climate change” does not sound as dire:

“Climate change” is less frightening than “global warming.” As one focus group participant noted, climate change “sounds like you’re going from Pittsburgh to Fort Lauterdale.” While global warming has catastrophic connotations attached to it, climate change suggests a more controllable and less emotional challenge.

The UK’s Guardian newspaper noted in 2003 after the Luntz memo was uncovered:

The phrase “global warming” appeared frequently in President Bush’s speeches in 2001, but decreased to almost nothing during 2002, when the memo was produced.

So to the denialists, if you’d like to toss around accusations of recently shifting from the use of “global warming” to “climate change” for political expediencey make sure you’re directing them at those who are truly guilty of such, not the climate science community who has been using the phrase for over 30 years.


3 responses to “Of moles and whacking: “Alarmists stopped using global warming in favor of climate change”

  1. On the need for scientific education regarding the human overpopulation of Earth in these early years of Century XXI………..

    Dear Friends,

    I want to at least try to gain your quick help. I’m not sure if you’ve heard, but yesterday the “AWAREness Campaign on the Human Population” submitted an idea for how we think the Obama Administration could change America. It’s called “Ideas for Change in America.”

    I’ve submitted an idea and wanted to see if you could vote for it. The title is: Accepting human limits and Earth’s limitations. You can read and vote for the idea by clicking on the following link:


    The top 10 ideas are going to be presented to the Obama Administration on Inauguration Day and will be supported by a national lobbying campaign run by Change.org, MySpace, and more than a dozen leading nonprofits after the Inauguration. So each idea has a real chance at becoming policy.


    Sincerely yours,


    Steven Earl Salmony
    AWAREness Campaign on the Human Population,
    established 2001

  2. Climate change, as in seasons?

  3. Pingback: Global Warming by any other name « Greenfyre’s

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