Americans see ‘carbon pollution’ as worse than ’emissions’

Source: BY: MINHO KIM, E&E News • Posted: Wednesday, January 25, 2023

A new study found that some terms for carbon dioxide emissions may evoke the climate crisis better than others.

Americans consider “carbon pollution” and “carbon emissions” as more harmful to human health and the environment than “greenhouse gas emissions,” according to a new study that evaluated how people perceive climate change communication.

Researchers surveyed more than 2,800 people on their views of the three terms for a study published Tuesday in the journal Environmental Communication. Through open-ended questions, they found that respondents associated carbon emissions with “pollution,” carbon pollution with “harmful” images, and greenhouse gas emissions with “climate change” — and sometimes gardening.

The results mean policymakers, climate activists and green energy businesses may need to reconsider the use of the term “greenhouse gas emissions” when communicating to the public about the dangers of the climate crisis, researchers say. Already, climate activists and organizations are increasingly adopting the term “carbon pollution” to emphasize the harms that arise from a rapidly changing climate.

We need to know what comes to mind and what people’s beliefs are when we use these terms,” said Matthew Goldberg, one of the authors of the study and an associate research scientist at the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication. “Greenhouse gas emissions do cover other things in a technical sense and would be appropriate usage in the classroom, for example, but if you’re trying to link it to specific harms or to pollution, you might be better off with carbon pollution or carbon emissions.”