Spinning the Spin: How Global Warming became Climate Change

We have heard it many times from Calgary oil patch colleagues: It was called global warming. When warming allegedly
stopped in 1998, the name was not suited anymore. So, in order to keep the conspiracy alive, the climate scientists and policy makers came up with a more neutral replacement term 'climate change'. This clearly shows that even the climate scientists don't believe in global warming anymore. Right?

Well, admittedly not! The new label "climate change" was coined by Frank Luntz, an advisor to the Republican Party. Below are excerpts from this 2002 memo to President George W. Bush titled
"The Environment: A Cleaner, Safer, Healthier America". Frank Luntz was employed by the public relations company APCO International, which also worked for the tobacco industry, and helped launching the Friends of Science. Frank Luntz has since changed his position on global warming.

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WINNING THE GLOBAL WARMING DEBATE – AN OVERVIEW

Please keep in mind the following communication recommendations as you address global warming in general, particularly as Democrats and opinion leaders attack President Bush over Kyoto.

  • The scientific debate remains open.  Voters believe that there is no consensus about global warming within the scientific community. Should the public come to believe that the scientific issues are settled, their views about global warming will change accordingly. Therefore, you need to continue to make the lack of scientific certainty a primary issue in the debate, and defer to scientists and other experts in the field.
  • Americans want a free and open discussion.  Even though Democrats savaged President Bush for formally withdrawing from the Kyoto accord, the truth is that none of them would have actually voted to ratify the treaty, and they were all glad to see it die. Emphasise the importance of “acting only with all the facts in hand” and “making the right decision, not the quick decision.”
  • Technology and innovation are the key in arguments on both sides.  Global warming alarmists use American superiority in technology and innovation quite effectively in responding to accusations that international agreements such as the Kyoto accord could cost the United States billions. Rather than condemning corporate America the way most environmentalists have done in the past, they attack their us for lacking faith in our collective ability to meet any economic challenges presented by environmental changes we make. This should be our argument. We need to emphasise how voluntary innovation and experimentation are preferable to bureaucratic or international intervention and regulation.
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The most important principle in any discussion of global warming is your commitment to sound science.  Americans unanimously believe all environmental rules and regulations should be based on sound science and common sense. [...]
The scientific debate is closing [against us] but not yet closed. There is still a window of opportunity to challenge the science.  Americans believe that all the strange weather that was associated with El Niño had something to do with global warming, and there is little you can do to convince them otherwise. However, only a handful of people believes the science of global warming is a closed question. Most Americans want more information so they can make an informed decision. It is our job to provide that information.

LANGUAGE THAT WORKS

We must not rush to judgement before all the facts are in. We need to ask more questions. We deserve more answers. And until we learn more, we should not commit America to any international document that handcuffs us either now or into the future.
You need to be even more active in recruiting experts who are sympathetic to your view, and much more active in making them part of your message.  People are willing to trust scientists, engineers, and other leading research professionals, and less willing to trust politicians. [...]

WORDS THAT WORK

Scientists can extrapolate all kinds of things from today’s data, but that doesn’t tell us anything about tomorrow’s world. You can’t look back a million years and say that proves that we’re heating the globe now hotter than its ever been. After all, just 20 years ago scientists were worried about a new Ice Age.
[...]
CONCLUSION:  REDEFINING LABELS [...] We have spent the last seven years examining how best to communicate complicated ideas and controversial subjects. The terminology in the upcoming environmental debate needs refinement, starting with “global warming” and ending with “environmentalism”. It’s time for us to start talking about “climate change” instead of global warming and “conservation” instead of preservation.

  • “Climate change” is less frightening than “global warming”.  As one focus group participant noted, climate change “sounds like you’re going from Pittsburgh to Fort Lauderdale.” While global warming has catastrophic connotations attached to it, climate change suggests a more controllable and less emotional challenge.
  • We should be “conservationists,” not “preservationists” or “environmentalists.”  The term “conservationist” has far more positive connotations than either of the other two terms. [...]

F. Luntz,
The Environment: A Cleaner, Safer, Healthier America 
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