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The Conversation: There is no evidence that ‘global warming’ was rebranded as ‘climate change’ | Watts Up With That?


Guest essay by Eric Worrall

The Conversation suggests there is no evidence climate change was rebranded as climate change. But their flawed effort to refute this argument is evidence the “anti-Greta” Naomi Seibt is having an impact.

There is no evidence that ‘global warming’ was rebranded as ‘climate change’

March 13, 2020 1.14am AEDT

Giulio Corsi
PhD Candidate, University of Cambridge

Climate change denial is a moving target. In the past, it consisted of a fully fledged denial of any scientific evidence that the world was warming. More recently, it has evolved into a creative mix of strategies. Deniers today often contradict part of the scientific basis for climate change, while pinning the blame for the rest – anything completely undeniable, even to them – on developing countries, particularly India and China.

Over the past few weeks, a new figure has emerged: Naomi Seibt. Seibt, the so-called anti-Greta Thunberg, a 19-year-old from Münster in Germany, rapidly gained media attention for her call for “climate realism”, claiming that climate change science really is not science at all, and for this reason, there is no need to panic. The young activist immediately caught the eye of the lively US denier scene and was – just months after publishing her first YouTube video – invited to speak at the high-profile Conservative Political Action Conference 2020 (CPAC) and made a member of the Heartland Institute, a thinktank known for its ties to the fossil-fuel industry.

What was perhaps most interesting, was her use of a recurrent argument on the supposed “historical rebranding” of climate change. The theory goes as follows: in the past, everyone used the term global warming to describe this phenomenon, but seeing that the planet was, in fact, not heating, global warming was “rebranded” to climate change in a sophisticated cover-up.

On the other hand, newspapers behaved somewhat differently. In both The Guardian and The Times, climate change is generally the most common term, but the two are used interchangeably until 2005 when again we see a breaking point. Despite this, climate change was in use long before any possible rebranding.

PHD candidate Giulio Corsi identifies a 2005 breaking point during which use of the phrase “climate change” in the media surged, but does not offer an explanation for this breaking point, other than a vague suggestion that the surge in the use of “climate change” occurred because 2005 was a “a watershed year for climate governance”.

The evidence Corsi overlooks or ignores is an intriguing Climategate email from 2004, an email which suggests the surge in use of the term “climate change” post 2004 was an act of deliberate rebranding.

date: Sat, 21 Feb 2004 10:53:26 -0000
from: “Bo Kjellen”
subject: RE: FWD: Abrupt Climate Change
to: “‘Asher Minns’”

Dear Asher, and all, I think this is a real problem, and I agree with Nick that climate change might be a better labelling than global warming. But somehow I also feel that one needs to add the dimension of the earth system, and the fact that human beings for the first time ever are able to impact on that system. That is why the IGBP in a recent publication “Global Change and the Earth System” underline that we now live in the anthropocene period. Climate change is one of the central elements of this process, but not the only one: loss of biological diversity, water stress, land degradation with loss of topsoil, etc etc all form part of this – and they are all linked in some way or another. Therefore a central message probably has to be that humans are now interfering with extremely large and heavy global systems, of which we know relatively little: we are in a totally new situation for the human species, and our impact added to all the natural variations that exist risks to unsettle subtle balances and create tensions within the systems which might also lead to “flip-over” effects with short-term consequences that might be very dangerous.

And then, the good old precautionary principle must be guiding our effort. During the cold war, enormous resources were put into missiles, airplanes, and other military equipment to check Soviet expansion and make containment policy credible – in the firm hope that all this equipment would never have to be used. And it wasn’t, and nobody complained about the costs. Now, in the face of a different, but clearly distinguishable global threat “more dangerous than terrorism” the cost issue surfaces all the time. Somehow we all need to help in creating an understanding that the threat of global change is real and that we need to develop a new paradigm of looking at the world and the future: this is not just a scientific or technological issue. It involves important philosophical and ethical considerations where some fundamental value systems have to be challenged.


—–Original Message—–
From: Asher Minns [mailto: redacted] On Behalf Of Asher Minns Sent: 20 February 2004 17:01
To: redacted; redacted
Subject: RE: FWD: Abrupt Climate Change

In my experience, global warming freezing is already a bit of a public relations problem with the media, which can become public perception. It provides a new story for the old news that is climate change – a story that has been running since 1985/88.

Prominent journalist Andy Revkin who at the time worked for New York Times, was part of the 4141.txt Climategate email chain, see the full climate gate 4141.txt email for details of his involvement in the discussion.

It is an unequivocal fact that the terms “climate change” and “global warming” have both been in use for a long time. The IPCC, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, was created in 1988. Giulio Corsi’s absurd suggestion that skeptics claim the phrase “climate change” was invented to replace “global warming” is a fallacious strawman.

But the 2004 Climategate email is evidence that there was a public rebranding effort. Prominent scientists, climate communicators and journalists were privately worried the phrase “global warming” was causing PR problems, so they agreed to start using the phrase “climate change” instead. The result, unsurprisingly, was a surge in media use of the phrase “climate change”.

I would love to know how Giulio Corsi, a Cambridge educated PHD candidate text mining expert, managed to overlook historical evidence which contradicts his claims. But I’m not going to hold my breath waiting for an answer.

This content was originally published here.

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