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Americans more concerned with "global warming" than "climate change"

The Department of Water and Power (DWP) San Fernando Valley Generating Station in Sun Valley, Calif. is seen in this Dec. 11, 2008 file photo.

David McNew/Getty Images

If you're trying to get someone to care about the way the environment is changing, you might want to refer to it as "global warming," rather than "climate change," according to a new study.

The study shows that Americans are more concerned with global warming than climate change, despite the fact that the two phrases are generally used to describe the same thing. Scientists have largely started using the term climate change because it more accurately describes the myriad changes to the climate -- including sea level rise, the melting of the glaciers, and extreme weather, while global warming refers to a single phenomenon.

The study found that the term global warming evokes "intense worry," especially among men, members of Generation X and Generation Y, Democrats, liberals and moderates. Those groups seemed less concerned when asked about "climate change."

"The use of the term climate change appears to actually reduce issue engagement by Democrats, Independents, liberals, and moderates, as well as a variety of subgroups within American society, including men, women, minorities, different generations, and across political and partisan lines," said the study, released Tuesday.

Researchers from the Yale Project on Climate Change Communications and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communications compiled the data through a survey of 1,657 people conducted over the course of two weeks in 2013.

"While global warming has catastrophic connotations attached to it, climate change suggests a more controllable and less emotional challenge," the authors wrote. According to the study, Americans are 13 percent more likely to consider global warming a bad thing.

This is because saying global warming calls to mind glaciers melting, extreme weather events and other emotional images. When people hear climate change, meanwhile, they're more likely to tune out.

This news is not necessarily a surprise. More than a decade ago, Republican consultants advised President George W. Bush to start saying "climate change" in place of "global warming."

"It's time for us to start talking about 'climate change' instead of global warming ... 'climate change' is less frightening than 'global warming'," pollster Frank Luntz wrote in a 2002 pre-midterm elections memo mentioned in the new report.

When President Barack Obama took office, his first-term advisors consistently avoided using either term, instead referring to "clean energy" and "green jobs." Lately, he has been using the term climate change. This is interesting, especially since the report found that climate change garners more support for "medium-scale efforts, especially among Republicans," while global warming garners more support from liberals and Democrats.

As part of the report, the researchers analyzed how politicians use the terms today. Conservative think tanks are actually more likely to use global warming, while liberal think tanks generally say climate change.

Amongst the American public, "global warming" appears much more frequently in internet searches and general conversation.