Climatic Change (2011) 106:699–710
A rose by any other name ...?:Whatmembers
of the general public prefer to call “climate change”
Karen Akerlof · Edward W. Maibach
Received: 3 January 2011 / Accepted: 6 April 2011 / Published online: 22 April 2011
© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011
Abstract Unlike many other environmental problems, the terms used to describe the
phenomenon of increasing atmospheric concentrations of anthropogenic greenhouse
gases are many, with multiple and sometimes conflicting meanings. Whether there
are meaningful distinctions in public perceptions of “global warming,” “climate
change,” and “global climate change” has been a topic of research over the past
decade. This study examines public preferences for these terms based on respondent
characteristics, including climate change beliefs, political affiliation, and audience
segment status derived from the “Global Warming’s Six Americas” classification.
Certainty of belief in global warming, political affiliation and audience segment
status were found to be the strongest predictors of preference, although “I have
no preference” was the modal response. Global warming appears to be a more
polarizing term than climate change, preferred most by people already concerned
about the issue, and least by people who don’t believe climate change is occurring.
Further research is needed to identify which of these two names promotes the
engagement of people across the spectrum of climate change beliefs in constructive
dialogue about the issue.
For the better part of the past decade, social scientists, marketers and politi-
cal strategists have recognized that the words commonly used to describe the
Electronic supplementary material The online version of this article
(doi:10.1007/s10584-011-0070-4) contains supplementary material,
which is available to authorized users.
K. Akerlof (
George Mason University, Fairfax, VA, USA
e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com
E. W. Maibach
Center for Climate Change Communication, George Mason University, Fairfax, VA, USA