Image Credit: BBC
Over the past few years, you’ve probably heard about climate change. And global warming. But what’s the difference? Is there even one? Why has the name seemingly changed? The use of both of these terms can be confusing, so let’s get them sorted out.
Global warming is the term that was originally most widely used to refer to the observed rapid changes in Earth’s climate system. It refers to the fact that overall, the planet is getting warmer. While there are some areas of the planet experiencing a cooling trend in their climate, the Earth as a whole is warming, even when these cooling pockets are taken into account. However, this warming is only a piece of the story of what is currently happening to our planet. Global warming is, in fact, a symptom of climate change.
The term “climate change” refers to the effects that global warming is having on the planet. The climate system involves more than just the temperature of the atmosphere. It also encompasses moisture in the atmosphere, and where and when it rains. Additionally, increasing global temperatures has a number of physical effects on the planet, such as melting land ice, sea level rise, and intensifying hurricanes, just to name a few. These, in turn, affect Earth’s climate. Thus, scientists use “climate change” to refer to all of the changes that are resulting and will result from increased global temperatures. Climate change is an umbrella term, under which global warming falls along with the other effects associated with an overall warming planet.
The media has shifted from global warming to climate change in their stories simply because “climate change” is a broader term that encompasses all changes and is more accurate if something like sea level rise or changing precipitation is being discussed. Scientists, however, have been using both terms for a long time. Each of these terms serves a different purpose for scientists in talking about what is happening to our planet. “Global warming” hones in on temperature changes, while “climate change” helps discuss other changes occurring in the Earth’s systems. While the two terms have been used interchangeably in public discourse and are closely related, it is important to remember the distinction between them.
©2019 Meteorologist Margaret Orr
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Image Source: https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-47144058