Climate change update: What's in a name? Quite a lot, it turns out

Climate change is mankind's biggest comms challenge. Every month we look at how the climate change message is progressing.

You might think the phrases ‘global warming’ and ‘climate change’ are synonymous. But when it comes to framing the issue and conveying a sense of imminent peril, it turns out one is far more effective than the other.

According to a new study by Yale University, ‘global warming’ is associated with greater certainty that it is happening, greater understanding that human activities are the primary cause and a greater sense of personal threat than the term ‘climate change’.

Scientists often prefer the term ‘climate change’ for technical reasons. But the use of the term appears to actually reduce issue engagement among less technical groups, says the report.

Environmental campaigners hate both terms, suggesting alternatives like ‘global heating’. US marketing guru Seth Godin nominates even less comforting alternatives: ‘atmosphere cancer’ or ‘pollution death’. 

It emerged last month that officials at the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (Florida is the American state most susceptible to the effects of global warming) banned both terms in any official comms, emails or reports. Instead, phrases like ‘climate drivers’ and ‘climate-driven changes’ are preferred.

Oil companies need to drill down for positive social media mentions

If there is any one group implicated in the creation of global warming, with powerful incentives to resist any attempt to solve it, it is the major oil companies. Yet surprisingly climate change is not the main issue to affect their reputations on social media.

Analysis by social media monitoring firm Talkwalker shows the most talked about oil company on social media over the past month was Brazilian-owned energy company Petrobras with 49.2 per cent share of voice. But that is because it is embroiled in a major corruption scandal.

The bulk of BP mentions are related to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, while Exxon’s social media infamy is largely due to a legal action involving the US state of New Jersey. Only Shell appears on the list for environmental reasons – its plans to drill in the Arctic.

But as the graph shows, when results are filtered for ‘global warming’, all the oil majors are likely to be spending some time on the social media naughty step with between 40 and 80 per cent negative comments. People clearly have scarcely a good word to say about them. BP is the most lauded of the oil majors with just six per cent positive sentiment.

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