At the risk of being voted off the sustainability island, I’m going to say something that might be considered heretical: it doesn’t matter if you call it global warming or climate change. Truth is, you probably don’t need to be calling it anything because no one cares.
Okay, that’s an overstatement.
Politicians care. Psychologists care. Environmentalists care. Maybe even those cute polar bears care. But mainstream consumers, not so much.
The debate continues to garner significant press coverage, and not just in the political sphere, where both phrases now carry more baggage than the Titanic did. Republicans prefer the term “global warming” while Democrats lean toward “climate change.” It’s as divisive an argument as any in modern civil discourse.
It consumes some of the finest minds in psychology who study message framing. They advocate communicating the message in other terms, like economic benefits or health concerns. They recommend appealing to supporters’ self-identities. They tell us that “global warming” is more motivating to a wider audience and that “climate change” is more motivating for a few, but less motivating for most.
Environmentalists use one or both as their rallying cries – STOP GLOBAL WARMING! FIGHT CLIMATE CHANGE! And their earnestness raises money from other earnest activists that’s used to hire lobbyists to talk to the politicians who STOP GLOBAL WARMING LEGISLATION and FIGHT CLIMATE CHANGE POLICY.
And shoppers in the grocery store, at the home improvement warehouse, and at the mass discount stores are looking at price tags because that’s what important to them. Put out a global warming message and watch them run away from the cash register faster than you can spell check the word Fahrenheit.
Sure, language is really important. Yes, we want people to be more environmentally responsible and energy efficient. But as marketers, we know that fewer than half of Americans believe that climate change is real and caused by man, and that it doesn’t strongly spark purchase intent.
But don’t worry – there are plenty of other drivers and change models we can leverage to create the change we desire.
In the meantime, leave the debate to the politicos, academics, activists and polar bears. Maybe they’ll agree on what to call it before the next dire pronouncement about rising temperatures and shrinking habitats.