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What Comes to Mind When You Think of the Term “Global Warming?”

August 01, 2012

In the past decade, the images and feelings Americans associate with the term “global warming” have shifted dramatically.  We recently published an article in Risk Analysis that identifies and analyzes these shifts in the connotative meaning of “global warming.”

The most striking result is the increase in the proportion of Americans who express strong doubt or rejection of the reality of global warming through their free associations. In 2003, only 7% of Americans provided “naysayer” images (e.g., “hoax,” or “no such thing”) when asked what thought or image first came to mind when they heard the term “global warming.”  By 2010, however, 23% of Americans provided “naysayer” images. Over the same time, alarmist imagery (e.g., “death of the planet”) slightly increased. Both types of images became charged with more negative feelings over time. The graph below summarizes how Americans’ associations to “global warming” changed from 2003 to 2010 (more data can be found in the paper).

The full article can be downloaded here. The full citation is as follows: Smith, N. and Leiserowitz, A. (2012), The Rise of Global Warming Skepticism: Exploring Affective Image Associations in the United States Over Time. Risk Analysis, 32: 1021–1032. doi: 10.1111/j.1539-6924.2012.01801.x