If you follow climate change/global warming, you will likely encounter people who insist that the term “global warming” was changed to “climate change” for various reasons (e.g., “global warming stopped, so they changed the name”, etc.).
One way to test this hypothesis is to tap into “big data”, in this case Google’s database of English books. Google has a cool tool called the “Ngram Viewer“, which allows you to determine the frequency of words and phrases in their database of books. What does Google’s Ngram Viewer tell us about this hypothesis?
- For all English books and American English books, it’s clear that the phrase “climate change” was in use before the term “global warming”. This contradicts the hypothesis that global warming was changed to climate change.
- Global warming is more common in American English than it is in British English, but climate change dominates in both.
- Usage of “climate change” peaked in the year 2001. This was driven by British English usage. This is quite interesting and merits additional research about if this is a real trend, or an artifact of the Google Books database.
For additional discussion and the history of these two terms, check out Skeptical Science.