What’s in a name? Commonalities and differences in public understanding of “climate change” and “global warming”

Whitmarsh, Lorraine
Public Understanding of Science

This paper reports on findings from a survey of public understanding of climate change and global warming amongst residents in the south of England. Whereas much previous research has relied on survey checklists to measure public understanding of climate change, this study employed a more qualitative approach to reveal participants’ unprompted conceptions of climate change and global warming. Overall, the findings show a tendency for the public to dissociate themselves from the causes, impacts, and responsibility for tackling climate change/global warming. This research gave particular attention to how terminology is understood by the public. The findings point to important qualitative, as well as quantitative, differences between public understanding of “climate change” and public understanding of “global warming.” Furthermore, the latter term was found to evoke more concern than the former. As discussed in the article, these results have important implications for both researchers and communicators.