Many of us vaguely remember that one day the term “global warming” changed to “climate change”. No one seemed to really know why. The website SkepticalScientist.com has unhelpfully noted
“There have long been claims that some unspecified “they” has “changed the name from ‘global warming’ to ‘climate change'”. In reality, the two terms mean different things, have both been used for decades, and the only individual to have specifically advocated changing the name in this fashion is a global warming ‘skeptic’.”
… whom they correctly identify as Frank Luntz. However in their zeal to correct everyone by drawing clear distinctions between the scientific meanings of the two terms, it is perhaps unsurprising that the scientists entirely missed the real point: that Luntz’s job as conservative messaging mastermind is to change the words everyone uses to evoke the response he wants as a way to further Republican goals. Luntz’s interest is in psychology, not climate science.
Luntz produced a memo in 2002 entitled “The Environment: A Cleaner, Safer, Healthier America,” advising the Bush White House that “global warming’ was gaining traction and that people were genuinely concerned and perhaps worried about a warming planet (of course the memo’s title itself was another example of Luntz’s skillful legerdemain). He suggested White House messaging, and conservative messaging in general, change henceforth to using “climate change”, because climates always change and it didn’t sound as scary. Conservative talking heads began using it immediately and the media, often unaware of how often they get played, made the switch. Disturbingly, as happens often with clever conservative messaging, so did most of us on the left.
Back when this change first came up we recommended using the term Climate Crisis, which we felt more accurately described the situation and changed the reference from a purely descriptive term to a more prescriptive one; after all if there is a crisis, something ought to be done about it. The Guardian in London has now come to the same conclusion and changed their style guide to henceforth use Climate Crisis in their publications. They hope, and we hope, other media do the same. We encourage every activist to follow suit.