Monday, February 16, 2009

"Climate change" overtakes "global warming"

I was under the impression that the phrase "global warming" had been progressively phased out in favor of the all-purpose "climate change", a la Michael Crichton's novel State of Fear (p314):
"Let me explain how you are going to solve your problem, Nicholas. The solution is simple. You have already told me that global warming is unsatisfactory because whenever there is a cold snap, people forget about it."

"Yes, I told you--"

"So what you need," Henley said, "is to structure the information so that whatever kind of weather occurs, it always confirms your message. That's the virtue of shifting the focus to abrupt climate change. It enables you to use everything that happens. There will always be floods, freezing storms, cyclones, and hurricanes."
I am obviously not qualified to speak authoritatively on long-term climate variations and their causes. Even if the catastrophic anthropogenic global warming narrative is accurate, it would still behoove activists to employ verbiage that doesn't cause skepticism or even welcoming of the putative disaster during unseasonal blizzards and cold years (or currently, relatively cold decades).

It does appear that CG is supplanting GW as the phrase of choice for environmental activists, but it has finally become king in just the last several months. A graph showing the number of articles by year in the New York Times containing the respective phrases, adjusted for the total number of articles annually produced (click for higher resolution) follows.

There are periodic spikes coinciding with the release of three of the IPCC's four assessment reports, released in 1990, 1995, 2001, and 2007. The decline in media attention from 1993 to 1996 bucks this pattern. The time period corresponds to a drop in coverage of ozone depletion from its peak in 1991. Additionally, the second IPCC assessment's report for policymakers was criticized by lead authors for apparently differing from what the body of the assessment suggested.

Through the turn of the century, as the alarm was sounded more frequently, "global warming" was consistently employed as a descriptor about three times as often as "climate change" was. During the eighties, GW's usage rate was 315% of CC's. During the nineties, the trend was almost identical--GW usage was 308% of CC's. While the usage gap remained pretty steady, the usage of both continued to grow (excepting the momentary mid-nineties dip) as they became an evermore established part of the popular lexicon.

From the release of the IPCC's fourth assessment in early 2001, CC has steadily gained ground on GW. The number of articles containing the phrase "climate change" as a percentage of the number of articles containing the phrase "global warming" during this decade:

2001: 32.2%
2002: 37.8%
2003: 36.3%
2004: 38.6%
2005: 47.1%
2006: 43.4%
2007: 62.1%
2008: 67.5%
2009: 113.7%

Up to February 13 of this year, it has been employed more frequently than GW. As the winter of 2007 in the southern hemisphere and the '07-'08 winter in the northern hemisphere were both particularly chilly (it snowed last January in Baghdad!), in tandem with substantial increases in Antarctic ice sheets, the shift in emphasis has utility.

Tangentially, global cooling never received media attention comparable to that given to GW/CC. The NYT only employed the phrase once in the eighties, and its archives before that time (extending back to 1851) return a grand total of six articles. There was not a scientific 'consensus' on the reality of global cooling in the seventies to correspond to the GW/CC consensus today.


Anonymous said...

When it comes to the liberal websites and commenters(as they seem to be, or have been the majority of GW fanatics), it is almost like they got a memo or something regarding the switch from GW to CC.

Stopped Clock said...

Is there any reason why there's a sudden extreme growth in *both* phrases? Are people talking that much more about GW than they used to?

Anonymous said...

"Is there any reason why there's a sudden extreme growth in *both* phrases? Are people talking that much more about GW than they used to?"

Maybe it has something to do with the temperature. Seriously. We've had a pretty cold winter. Since that flies in the face of the AGW/GW claims that the world is getting warmer, they need throw more coal on the rhetorical fire. By adding the CC stuff, they can cover all their bases, so to speak. A two-pronged approach to propaganda.

And sort of on topic:

BGC said...

Okay - how about this?

I am a character / featured-in in a Michael Crichton novel - page 218 of Next (2006) to be exact:

It came as quite a surprise to me, I can tell you!

al fin said...

Yes, "climate change" is more ambiguous, so it is a safer term to toss around. Since climate always changes -- in whichever direction -- climate change is always happening.

By blaming "climate change" on whatever boogy man you wish to attack, you are provided with a useful rhetorical weapon. And since all you ever wanted was a cleaner, more sustainable Earth, how could anyone possibly attack your motives?

The same news media that backed the new "Milli-Vanilli" US President is also fully gung-ho behind "climate change." (to get into J-School, you must first flunk an IQ test)

Audacious Epigone said...


It might be to combat growing skepticism, as anon suggests. Notice too that it seems to have peaked in '07--Steve Sailer has pointed out on multiple occasions that Obama's political mindset is "so 2007".


Impressive! I'm going to read it soon.


As you've pointed out many times before, the phrase "climate change" is redundant.

Anonymous said...

The switch is simple gents.

"Climate Change" can be used to fit the agenda if it gets either hotter or cooler.

They will still blame carbon and want to tax you for having a carbon footprint.

Guys, global warming was never about the world tempreture. Its a goddamned scam by the elite pure and simple. Its a way to tax every person in the developed world for being a meanie and driving a car and having a heated or air-conditioned house. Its about stopping development in undeveloped places by the elite, who are people-haters above all else. They are simply a bunch of "one-worlders" and this is their latest scam.

Anonymous said...

One has to recall the early days of the debate, when 'global warming' was the buzz word promoted by the environmentalist community. After news media and other critics noted that not many years before the predicted crisis was "global cooling," the environmental community switched to "climage change" to expand the parameters of the 'problem' so that any variability was a crisis.

DCS said...

It shows how prescient the late Michael Crichton could be.State of Fear was published in 2004 and probably written one or two years before. He will be missed.

Nick said...

They're also becoming quite fond of flatout equivocation. I remember reading a Reuters story a while back (too lazy to look it up) which had a heading insisting something like, "Global Warming increasing faster than anticipated." I read the article, and there wasn't one fact or figure about temp of any sort, but rather the claim that the amount of CO2 produced increased more than expected between 2000-07. (A better headline would've been, "Climate scientists predictions wrong yet again.") That global temps have most certainly NOT increased more than expected in recent years was apparently irrelevant.

Like you, I don't puport to be a climate scientist, but it's hard not to be skeptical when you see the tactics these types use.

Audacious Epigone said...


I think this is the article you're referring to. It's almost Orwellian--by pointing out a larger than expected increase in CO2 emissions during a period of moderate cooling should, if anything, create more skepticism. Instead, it is trumpeted as foreshadowing temperature spike that's perpetually just around the bend.

popularsymbolism said...

To those skeptical of the whole 'climate change/global warming' cult:

pay particular attention to the chapter in Michael Crichton's book 'The State Of Fear' where he compares 'global warming' to the 'eugenics movement' of the 20th century.

BTW, Michael Crichton was not the first to make the comparison. See this 1995 report from a professor of Metereology:

The IPCC was actually set up specifically to address the issue of 'climate change'. By its very nature, it can not be impartial on the subject.

BTW, this quote from a global warming 'expert', neatly sums it all up (no wonder why there is a very skeptical crowd out there, the IPCC's own disciples openly flaunt their dishonesty):

To do that we need to get some broadbased support, to capture the public's imagination. That, of course, entails getting loads of media coverage. [b]So we have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified, dramatic statements, and make little mention of any doubts we might have[/b]. This 'double ethical bind' we frequently find ourselves in cannot be solved by any formula. [b]Each of us has to decide what the right balance is between being effective and being honest.[/b]

Incredible. Just unbelievable. You'd think they'd be less blunt about it.

Audacious Epigone said...


I found Crichton's comparison to the eugenics movement to be a little bit self-defeating, in that he insinuates that eugenics is evil because of how it was approached in the first part of the 20th Century, while maintaining that he is a concerned environmentalist/steward of the earth, but thinks CAGW is bunk. Well, why reject eugenics out-of-hand but not environmentalism?

popularsymbolism said...


While I can't speak for Crichton, I do think there are environmental concerns. It's just that these environmental concerns don't appear to be on the radar of any of the so-called altruistic environmental groups. Greenpeace only rallies against the nuclear energy industry and invokes the 'Chernobyl' scaremonger on several occasions, but apart from that and hyping the CO2 'issue', they're pretty much irrelevant. Same for WWF.

No-one is out there battling depleted uranium, toxic being dumped in oceans, cross-species engineering, the honeybees dying due to genetically modified crops. Yet all their focus is on battling the CO2 issue.

That is the central disconnect. Even if this were a real crisis, putting caps on greenhouse gases and taxing people for their carbon footprint is not going to stop the sun from heating/cooling.

Back to State of Fear: Crichton's comparison of the two (eugenics and global warming) merely concerns how the two movements were widely popular at their time and any dissent was stifled - while both were based on fundamentally flawed scientific evidence.

I would go one step further: global warming might as well be eugenics 2.0 - there's a certain Malthusian spin to the whole concept that we should be having fewer children because they add to the CO2 problem and are ruining the planet's natural surfaces.

Scientists: Save the planet—have fewer kids

There are already articles where environmentalists are encouraged to break the 'population control' taboo:

Population: The elephant in the room

Hence my belief that this 'global warming' movement is far more insidious and malevolent than it appears at first glance. Whenever you mix in Malthusian economics ('cap-and-trade', carbon tax) with population control (China's one-child policy, Mao Tse Tsung-style birth control), you know you are in a lot of trouble.

Audacious Epigone said...


Well put, as usual. The only thing I take issue with is your word choice--CAGW seems to me more misanthropic in its aims than it is eugenic. Although one commenter on the Feeney piece suggested a cap-and-trade system for fertility...

Stopped Clock said...

I promised a few months ago ... maybe it's been a year ... that I would produce a pro-AGW argument and I never got around to it. I apologize, and I still do want to do this if I can find time, but there are so many objections and counter-objections to deal with that it might not be possible. I can see why the IPCC report needs ~500 pages.

Stopped Clock said...

In the meantime please read the Jewish Atheist link, I think he is doing a better job of making my point than I could.

Marc-Paul said...

why use the NYTimes as your source when you have google trends at your disposal? i did a quick comparison between the two phrases here.

it's hard to tell but it looks like historically 'climate change' and 'global warming' appeared approximately with the same frequency in *news* outlets until late 2007 when 'climate change' began to pull ahead. on the web in general, however, 'global warming' clearly runs ahead and always has.

i hope this helps.

Audacious Epigone said...


Very interesting. Notice the geographical discrepancies--in Europe and Australia, "climate change" is near parity with "global warming" (in Edinburgh, it is actually more common), while in the third world, GW swamps CC, with the non-European, non-Pacific Anglosphere more in the middle. The NYT probably is more of a trendsetter. I'd guess that Google trends will show a relative rise in CC compared to GW going forward.