Does language matter?

A new poll on environmental attitudes performed by The Yale School of Forestry & Environmental studies and the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research (Yale-AP-NORC) found that 56% of Americans believe global warming is happening. It was based on a nationally representative online survey of 1578 American adults between last November 20th and December 1st.On the other hand, The University of Texas at Austin Energy Poll states that 68% of Americans believes climate change is occurring. The poll was initiated in 2011 to provide insights into public perspectives related to energy and environmental issues and in its seventh iteration, 2105 American adults were surveyed between last September 4th and 16th.Can the difference be related to the language? Would have been the number closer to 68% when the Yale-AP-NORC has asked about climate change instead of global warming or vice versa? Would be considering global warming related to climate change in a causal relationship where climate change not only causes global warming, but other weather events such as droughts or heatwaves a good explanation?Wait a minute… Are we clear about climate change and global warming meanings?Let’s google what’s climate change and see what comes first:

The first entry appearing, a link about basic information on Climate Change from the United States Environmental Protection Agency, states that:'Global warming refers to the recent and ongoing rise in global average temperature near Earth's surface. It is caused mostly by increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Global warming is causing climate patterns to change. However, global warming itself represents only one aspect of climate change.''Climate change refers to any significant change in the measures of climate lasting for an extended period of time. In other words, climate change includes major changes in temperature, precipitation, or wind patterns, among other effects, that occur over several decades or longer.’It does prove our hypothesis about considering global warming as a subpart of climate change. This could explain that people believe more in climate change than global warming because they see other weather events such as change in precipitations patterns but they are not aware or are affected by the rise of the average temperature. But let’s continue to the second entry, the Met Office defines:‘Climate change is a large-scale, long-term shift in the planet's weather patterns or average temperatures’They don’t mention the words global warming but states higher temperatures as an evidence for climate change besides other 6 evidences:

  • Changing rainfall
  • Changes in nature
  • Sea level rises
  • Retreating glaciers
  • Sea ice
  • Ice sheets

And finally, the third entry, our beloved Wikipedia says:'Climate change is a change in the statistical distribution of weather patterns when that change lasts for an extended period of time (i.e., decades to millions of years). Climate change may refer to a change in average weather conditions, or in the time variation of weather around longer-term average conditions (i.e., more or fewer extreme weather events). Climate change is caused by factors such as biotic processes, variations in solar radiation received by Earth, plate tectonics, and volcanic eruptions. Certain human activities have also been identified as significant causes of recent climate change, often referred to as "global warming".'This adds a new question to our analysis: is the 56% and 68% difference due to the human source of climate change. May Americans recognize climate change, but don’t identify human activities as a significant cause of it?Clicking on global warming, Wikipedia directly uses climate change and global warming together:'Global warming and "climate change" can both refer to the observed century-scale rise in the average temperature of the Earth's climate system and its related effects, although climate change can also refer to any historic change in climate.'We can conclude that the use of global warming and climate change as synonyms may be a source of confusion. Language does matter and we need to be clear about the meaning of the words we use. As the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein quote:'The limits of my language are the limits of my world'Can you think about other examples or situations where language does matter related to sustainability or the environment? What do you think about the use of fast and junk food? Do people use it as synonyms? Share with us or your friends the discussion!