The Use of "Global Warming" Vs. "Climate Change" in the Scientific Literature and Prestige Press
Tuesday, 17 June 2014
146B-C (Washington Convention Center)
Human emissions of greenhouse gases are altering the planetary energy balance, driving an increase in the globally-averaged surface temperature, resulting in climatic changes. The terms "climate change" and "global warming" are both commonly used to describe the present human perturbation of the climate system, in scientific as well as media fora. However, the two terms are not completely equivalent, either from a scientific perspective or in public perception of their usage. A number of misconceptions and myths have emerged about scientists' intent in and frequency of employing one or the other terms, e.g. scientists have abandoned "global warming" in favor of "climate change" due to cooling global temperature. Such misconceptions may be responsible for a growing partisan division in opinion about the two terms. Here we explore the occurrence of the two terms over time in both the scientific literature and the mainstream American press, and address several misconceptions about their use. We find that "climate change" has been consistently used more often than "global warming" by scientists, and that this has been true for decades. We find that both terms are being used with increasing frequency in the scientific literature over time. We find no evidence that preference is given to one or the other terms based on changes in global temperature. Additionally, we reject the scientific legitimacy of the term "catastrophic anthropogenic global warming" or "CAGW", finding that it is virtually never used in the scientific literature, and is little more than strawman of climate "skeptics". By identifying and addressing misconceptions surrounding the terms "climate change" and "global warming", we hope to aid communicators and policymakers reach their audiences more effectively.