Are Climate Change and Global Warming the Same Thing?
“Global warming” describes an increase in the earth’s average temperature, “climate change” describes all changes to climate, including global warming. Climate change is the big picture, global warming is part of climate change and the main contributor to climate change. Since global warming is the primary factor in climate change, the words can sort of be used interchangeably in common language (much to the confusion of the listener).
For example: When greenhouse gasses warm the atmosphere, and that melts ice caps, the warming is global warming and the ice cap melting is climate change (an effect of global warming). We can say global warming and imply climate change effects, or we can say climate change and imply global warming.
The difference between global warming and climate change.
FACT: Typically, the terms global warming and climate change imply human-caused climate change, but they can refer to natural climate change as well.
FACT: Global warming may only be a type of climate change, but evidence shows that it’s the main obstacle in regards to negative human-caused climate change.
Why Do We Use Both Terms?
The main reason we use both terms is a matter of politics. This isn’t my politics, this is me literally telling you that (as you can imagine) there is a bitter war over whether the usage of fossil fuels and such has MEANINGFUL negative climate impacts. The debate is so heated everyone essentially decided to switch terms somewhere back in the early 2000’s. So just know, both climate change and global warming are technically different (and both real), but they are used interchangeably in politics like they aren’t.
Is Climate Change Real? Well That is a Matter of Politics…
NOTE: Fighting climate change requires funding Government agencies and regulating energy companies. This somewhat naturally puts the American left on one side and the right on the other. This is compounded by parties “playing to the base”. The “right wing base” in America tends to not believe in climate change while the “left-wing base” does.
The Luntz Memo
Luntz suggested the change as global warming sounded more catastrophic than climate change. Luntz wrote in a memo to Bush:
“The scientific debate is closing … but not yet closed. There is still a window of opportunity to challenge the science…. Voters believe that there is no consensus about global warming within the scientific community. Should the public come to believe that the scientific issues are settled, their views about global warming will change accordingly. Therefore, you need to continue to make the lack of scientific certainty a primary issue in the debate and defer to scientists and other experts in the field.”
Luntz on FOX News in 2009.
Luntz’s Current Views
Luntz has been vocal in recent years. He came out in 2010 saying that polling showed Americans supported climate change legislation and that his own views had changed as new evidence has come to light over the past 15 years.
FACT: Some “skeptics” prefer the term global warming. On one hand, that is the primary issue. On the other hand, it’s advantageous for debate as they only need to combat the warming concept (which is easy using the “false-logic” that global warming isn’t happening if it’s cold outside).
Essentially the semantics of using Global Warming and Climate Change are rooted in American politics.
Are Global Warming and Climate Change Caused By Humans or Natural?
Climate change and global warming both occur naturally. For example, the greenhouse effect describes a natural process of the atmosphere trapping heat like a greenhouse would. That said, evidence suggests that both humans and nature are impacting global warming and climate change negatively by:
- The burning of coal, oil, and gas – Human-caused
- Deforestation and land use changes, from things like mining and soil cultivation – Human-caused
- Agriculture of plants and animals – Human-caused
- Natural occurrences like volcanoes. – Natural
For better or worse, when humans impact the climate, they create human-caused climate change. When the effects of human-caused climate change result in disasters like a record number of wildfires for 2015, or the melting of the polar ice caps, it’s negative human-caused climate change. That said climate change and warming aren’t always “bad”.
Are Global Warming and Climate Change Bad?
If I turn the AC up in my house I am changing the climate. If we were in an ice age warming up the earth a few degrees would be nice. If we are in a hot period, dropping the temperature a few degrees globally could actually be a good thing.
Any time we alter our climate, it’s climate change, any time we use greenhouse gasses to trap heat we change the climate. Climate change and global warming are good in some circumstances but bad in others.
The above said when we say “climate change” in a national or international discussion we are talking about negative human-caused climate change, and specifically global warming.