You say 'climate change', I say 'global warming' - what's the difference?

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - When it comes to climate speak, labels seem to matter: the American public - particularly Republicans - are more likely to say they doubt the existence of “global warming” than “climate change”, according to researchers at Cornell University.

In a survey, 74 percent of Republicans polled said they believed that climate change is happening, but only 66 percent said they believed in global warming. In contrast, 94 percent of Democrats said they believed in both.

The reasons why people discredit climate science may be because they do not like the policies being proposed to tackle the problem, said study co-author Jonathon Schuldt, assistant professor of communication at Cornell.

“Acknowledging the reality of global warming or climate change may lead to new government regulations on businesses, which goes against core conservative values,” he said.

“So, telling a pollster that the phenomenon isn’t happening may reflect something about a person’s general policy preferences, not just their level of certainty that the global climate is changing.”

U.S. President Donald Trump’s tweets are less likely to speak about climate change than global warming - which he has described as a hoax. In all, 106 of his tweets mentioned “global warming” and 36 said “climate change”, the researchers found.

“Our results suggest that Trump’s emphasis on ‘global warming’ may be an effective rhetorical strategy that resonates with his Republican constituents, who express more scepticism in response to that term in particular,” said Schuldt.

But the chasm between Republicans and Democrats on climate science might not be as large as it seems, Schuldt added.

“If you ask people what they think about climate change - not global warming - we find that the partisan gap shrinks by about 30 percent,” he said. “There’s actually more agreement here than we think.”

The effect identified by the researchers is especially relevant given Trump’s decision to pull the United States out of the Paris climate agreement, said co-author Peter Enns, associate professor of government.

Trump’s announcement on June 1 that he wished to renegotiate the terms of the landmark 195-nation climate deal was met with dismay by other countries who signed the agreement.

Trump has said participating in the accord - which aims to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels - would undermine the U.S. economy, wipe out jobs, weaken national sovereignty and put his country at a permanent disadvantage.

The Cornell University research was based on a national probability survey of 1,461 U.S. adults carried out in October last year, and published on Wednesday.