Climate Change: Where the Rhetoric Defines the Science

March 8, 2011

Yesterday, the Seattle Times published a story about the impact rising temperatures are having on the Costa Rican coffee crop. This phrase stood out:

Global warming — more accurately called climate change — poses "a direct business threat to our company," Starbucks executive Jim Hanna told an Environmental Protection Agency panel in 2009 in Seattle.

Moving from "global warming" to "climate change" has been the major rhetorical trend among climate alarmists during the last year. The primary cause is the heavy snowfall across the country this winter is inconsistent with past claims about the impacts of global warming.

Ironically, when George W. Bush was president and used the term "climate change" instead of "global warming," he was attacked by the left. In 2003, the left-leaning Guardian newspaper in the UK, in an article titled "Memo exposes Bush's new green strategy," wrote, "The phrase 'global warming' should be abandoned in favour of 'climate change'," according to Bush pollster Frank Luntz. This was described as an attempt to muddy the debate and confuse the public about the real threat of global warming.

Ironically, some on the left still complain that conservatives continue to use the term "climate change." Just last week, a survey found that conservatives are more comfortable with the phrase "climate change" than "global warming." The Atlantic Monthly blog has this comment:

The findings, published in Public Opinion Quarterly, show a 60 percent to 44 percent gap among self-identified Republicans in a large survey who endorsed the notion of "climate change" versus "global warming." Meaning that 16 percent of Republican respondents apparently weren't aware that "climate change" is synonymous with "global warming."

The last comment is designed to indicate that conservatives are simply rubes who can't distinguish between the two terms. Ironically, just as The Atlantic is arguing that "climate change" and "global warming" are synonymous, the Seattle Times is taking rhetorical steps to demonstrate they are not.

When Bush chose to use "climate change" instead of "global warming," members of the left saw it as a sinister plot. Today, they are rapidly trying to make the same switch in an effort to argue that heavy winters are consistent with global warming.

The simple truth is all of this is an effort to fit the science to the rhetoric. When "global warming" was the preferred nomenclature, former Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels and others warned that winter would disappear. Today, when winter has clearly not disappeared, they are switching to "climate change" and pretending they always believed it could cause colder winters.

So, which term is more "accurate" - climate change or global warming? Politics, not science, will make that decision.