Global Warming vs. Climate Change: A Psychological Manipulation of Words

Magnet Words

By Neha Saraf


| As most of you are probably aware, climate change is a very controversial debate in today’s world. As John Oliver, the talk show host from Last Week Tonight, states, “the debate on climate change should not be whether or not it exists, it’s what we should do about it”. The clip from his show regarding the climate change debate can be seen below.

Now, what’s the difference between global warming and climate change? Aren’t they just interchangeable terms? Although both global warming and climate change refer to the same phenomena – a change in our global climate – media’s framing routine illuminates some key differences. Framing not only highlights certain aspects for the audience to focus on, but can also reveal the media organization’s internal beliefs. In fact, media organizations often frame media content to highlight what they find significant, thereby influencing viewer opinions. In general, media organizations highlight content that follows their beliefs, motivations, etc. to maximize profit. For example, advertisers may show an overly emotional video of animal abuse to help convince more users to donate to their shelter. Similarly, politicians may use different terms depending on who they are addressing in order to gain attention or votes.

In a study conducted by Schuldt and Roh, results showed that conservatives tended to link heat-related impacts more strongly with global warming than climate change whereas liberals associated these impacts equally with both global warming and climate change. This means that certain mindsets seem to be more susceptible (susceptible seems to have a negative connotation) to framing than others. Does the legislature then target certain mindsets and manipulate them to vote accordingly to their beliefs? The authors of this peer review seem to think so. Interestingly enough, we can observe Schuldt’s and Roh’s personal beliefs about global warming since they seem to believe that “these frames are likely to affect how the public perceives the climate issue and to influence their environmental policy preferences”. As a result, the use of the phrase climate change or global warming becomes a manipulative tool for campaigns rather than a pressing environmental issue.

Moreover, in media, the terms “global warming” and “climate change” are exchanged interchangeably as if they are synonymous. However, NASA thinks otherwise. By using a scientific approach to these phrases, NASA is able to more accurately state the facts in an objective manner – emphasizing the severity of climate change through facts rather than cleverly guided phrases. They claim that “global climate change” is the most scientifically accurate term since it encompasses all the consequences of increasing carbon dioxide emissions. Global warming became famous in 1989 due to NASA scientist James Hansen’s testimonial to Congress about this phenomena. In fact, “global warming” describes an increase in surface temperature, while climate change discusses other changes due to increased carbon dioxide emissions. So global warming is actually a subset of climate change!

Both the NASA and peer review article demonstrate their preference for climate change because it is a more holistic term than global warming. Whereas NASA employs scientific facts to establish their inclination towards climate change, the peer review looks at the psychological effects of this framing. The peer review focuses on how cognitions are activated when media frames political issues – and the authors are not in favor of political campaigns misusing global warming to influence voters’ attitudes on this matter. Personally, I feel that manipulating such a critical environmental issue for personal gain will only accelerate the degradation of our environment as we idly argue back and forth rather than coming up with a solution to solve our limited resource problem. In order to preserve the few limited resources that we have left, we must stop trying to profit off of global climate change, and start accepting it as reality in order to find a solution.

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