Global Warming. Climate Change. Climate Crisis.
You’ve probably heard at least one of these terms in the news within the past few years. Of course, this can lead to confusion. Each of these are referring to the same phenomenon of human-caused changes in Earth’s climate. However, they each refer to a different aspect of human-caused climate change. Let’s break each term down a little.
“Global Warming” was one of - if not the - first term to be publicized. When scientists first observed changes in Earth’s climate and attributed them to fossil fuel emissions, the most robust evidence for the change were rapidly increasing global average temperatures. The term “global warming” was coined to reflect this large-scale temperature increase.
However, as technology advanced, more observations were able to be recorded, and we were able to study past changes in the Earth system. Scientists learned that rising sea levels, melting ice caps, warming oceans, and other changes could be linked to fossil fuel emissions and global warming. Scientists also discovered that some areas of the planet were projected to cool under an anthropogenically altered climate. Therefore, the term “climate change” was coined to better reflect the diverse changes in Earth’s systems.
As a problem caused by human actions, climate change can thus be solved by human actions. However, a number of factors have resulted in a lack of practical solutions and low motivation to implement even small solutions. In recent years, as the planet has seen a number of climate-related disasters – sunny day flooding, strong and stalling hurricanes, and wildfires, to name a few – the term “climate crisis” was coined with the intent to help inform world citizens about the scale of climate change related damage, and the repercussions of inaction.
One new term that has been making the rounds lately is “climate disruption”. This is a unique term as it captures many of the facets of the climate change issue in one term. “Disruption” implies that human activity has knocked the climate system off of its typical equilibrium – which it has. It also captures the negative results of anthropogenic climate change. Keep an eye out for this term in the near future! And remember, one of the best things you can do to combat climate disruption is to talk about it. No matter which term you use, raising awareness of the issue will also raise concern and, hopefully, action.
©2020 Meteorologist Margaret Orr
For more information about our changing climate, visit https://www.globalweatherclimatecenter.com/climate-topics