As politicians around the world gear up for December’s UN Climate Change Conference and the International Day of Climate Action moves closer, we should take note of a new study from the Pew Research Center for the People & Press that shows only 57% of Americans believe that climate change is real, down from 77% in 2006 and 71% in 2007. At the same time, the media has drastically increased coverage of global warming over the past few years, scientists have piled on the evidence of climate change, and “green” has become a mantra in the PR world. What’s going on?
Simply put, it’s a marketing problem. Winter seems to have come early this year, and for many people, that makes it look like climate change is on hold. Whenever the weather swings towards the cool side, global warming skeptics are all too eager to point it out–just take a look at the Drudge Report next time there’s a blizzard.
This might be because we’ve made the error of using “global warming” and “climate change” interchangeably. Yes, the two phrases refer to the same thing, but global warming is a long-term trend. Short-term fluctuations in temperature are to be expected, especially in an El Niño year. This seems obvious enough for ardent environmentalists, but add in a slew of news organizations trying to instill climate change skepticism and the whole thing becomes confusing.
So perhaps part of the solution is to stick with the phrase “climate change,” at least in public discourse. Another helpful hint: those climate change PR stunts are fun, but for the most part, they’re just preaching to the choir.