What terminology should we use when talking about climate science? Does it matter?

According to this new report from Anthony Leiserowitz and colleagues it could make a big difference. After surveying lots of Americans they found that people have different associations with the term "global warming" compared to "climate change". Generally "global warming" seems to be more powerful: respondents were more likely to say that it was happening, was caused by humans, and was a threat.

This may be surprising to those concerned with communicating about climate change. From a scientific perspective, "climate change" is a better representation of what is actually happening: "global warming" only describes one impact of the build up of energy in the Earth system. Overemphasising global warming can cause confusion because there is not necessarily a simple relationship with the weather and climate we experience day to day, year to year, or even decade to decade; and the long term rise in global temperature. Then, every time it gets a bit chilly there are (misguided) questions about whether global warming is actually happening.

So does this report mean we should talk less about "climate change" and more about "global warming"? Not necessarily. A change in terminology might be a quick fix. However, the findings of this study imply that there is a problem in the way that the public understand climate change and the relationship with global temperature. Successful communication of climate science might need to tackle this deeper issue.