Post No. 2 in this 12 part series on climate change will discuss the difference between Global Warming and Climate Change, and what these terms mean to our future. I’ll also provide recommendations on some of the best sources to learn more about these topics.
Previous and upcoming posts are listed below for reference. Previous post titles will link to back to the original post.
1: Why I Write: How I became interested in the climate issue
2: “Global Warming” or “Climate Change”? What do these mean, and what’s the diff?
3: A Brief Guide to the Climate Debate: a look at the “Climate War” and who is saying what
4: The Arguments: The most common arguments and responses
5: On Our Watch: Science tells us that climate change is happening now
6: Yep, We Did It: Science tells us that this climate change is from OUR activities
7: What It Means to Missouri: How climate change will likely impact our region
8: Save Money, Save the Climate!: Simple ideas that save money while reducing CO2 emissions
9: Our Choice: What we can do to limit further harm while adapting to the changes to come
10: Lead!: Climate Change is happening. The United States can lead, or get left behind
11: If We Don’t? Geo-engineering the climate. What is it and why we don’t want to go there
12: Final Thoughts. Ethical considerations
Global Warming? Or Climate Change?
Who cares? Aren’t they the same thing?
No, they are very different terms that describe very different principles.
It’s important to know the definitions and differences between "global warming" and "climate change" because it will help us understand why the threat caused by continued warming of the planet is so serious.
OK, so, what is the diff?
“Cause and Effect”
Global Warming is the cause and climate change is the effect.
Or, put into human terms, “Global Warming” is like a fever and “Climate Change” is like the “chills” you get when you have a fever.
Global warming (and global cooling), causes climate change, like a fever causes the chills (as well as body aches and other nasty effects).
OK, got it. Global warming causes climate change. What then, is causing global warming?
We’ll get into that topic in post No. 6, but first, let’s continue to get our heads around what global warming and climate change are and what they mean.
Another big difference is that “Global Warming” is just that—global, while climate change is local. Here are simple definitions from Climate Central for both:
Global Warming: An overall warming of the planet, based on average temperature over the entire surface.
Climate Change: Changes in regional climate characteristics, including temperature, humidity, rainfall, wind, and severe weather events.
The bottom line is that while “global warming” is not a wrong term, “climate change” is more meaningful and accurate description of what is happening to us.
We don’t notice if the globe is warming, however, we do notice winters that aren’t like real winters, summer time temperatures in March and May weather that is more like July than May. We also notice increasing droughts, floods, heat waves, storms and forest fires.
Here is another way to look at the term “Global Warming," this time from Presidential Science Advisor John Holdren, quoted in Thomas Friedman, Hot, Flat and Crowded, p. 134.
"The popular term 'global warming' is a misnomer. It implies something uniform, gradual, mainly about temperature, and quite possibly benign. What is happening to global climate is none of those.
It is uneven geographically. It is rapid compared to ordinary historic rates of climatic change, as well as rapid compared to the adjustment times of ecosystems and human society.
It is affecting a wide array of critically important climatic phenomena besides temperature, including precipitation, humidity, soil moisture, atmospheric circulation patterns, storms, snow and ice cover, and ocean currents and upwellings.
And its effects on human well-being are and undoubtedly will remain far more negative than positive.
A more accurate, albeit more cumbersome, label than 'global warming' is 'global climatic disruption.'"
GLOBAL CLIMATIC DISRUPTION?
Wow, that’s an alarming description, isn’t it? Too alarming perhaps? Perhaps it is just fear-mongering and scare tactics employed by the “environmentalists” to create yet more government intrusion into our lives and to limit our “freedoms”?
Or, perhaps it is a realistic assessment, endorsed by the very best scientific institutions across the world, of what happens to the climate when atmospheric CO2 levels reach the highest levels in 15 million years?
Perhaps “Global Climate Disruption” is the most accurate term to describe what is really happening and will continue to happen?
If the scientific assessment is right, and science has a pretty good record there, then we have a rather large problem ahead of us, and a problem that we HAVE to solve.
This brings us to the primary point of this particular post—WE need to get ourselves up to speed on this topic, and NOT from un-informed loudmouths on the radio.
While understanding the terms “Global Warming” and “Climate Change” is important, our far more important societal responsibility is to EDUCATE ourselves on this issue using the very best and most authoritative sources available. We cannot make informed decisions unless we have a basic understanding of what the issue is as well as the short and long term implications of acting—or NOT acting.
I’m pretty sure the talking heads on the radio, TV or YouTube are not the most qualified sources for informed knowledge on these complex topics.
My recommendation is to go to reputable science sources for reliable information. This could be websites or books. Here are a few of my favorite sources from both mediums:
Websites (most also have videos)
- NCAR and UCAR (Atmospheric Research Organizations): Quick answers and deeper background on global warming
- National Academies of Science: America’s Climate Choices (also great videos)
- NASA-Climate: Global Climate Change and Vital Signs for the Planet
- NOAA: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
- National Geographic: The Planet is Heating Up - Fast!
- National Science Foundation
- Realclimate.org: A website run by practicing climate scientists, including many from NASA
- Union of Concerned Scientists: What is global warming? Think of a blanket, covering the Earth
- Skeptical Science: A site run by climate scientists to debunk myths and misinformation
- Discover: Global Warming, What you need to Know
- Global Warming Fact of the Day: A Facebook Page run by a friend of mine, Professor Scott Mandia
A Few Books about Climate Change:
- Earth, The Operators Manual by Richard Alley (Also a movie on PBS and DVD)
- Climate Change, Picturing the Science by Gavin Schmidt of NASA
- A Climate for Change Global Warming Facts for Faith-Based Decisions by Katherine Hayhoe
- The Climate Crisis, and Introductory Guide by David Archer and Stefan Rahmstorf
Note: There are many more websites and books on climate change than this, including many that take the opposite perspective of the sources listed above. While you are certainly free to see what those sources have to say, you should understand that those sources are far outside of the scientific understanding of our very best scientific institutions, such as NOAA, NASA and the NAS.
The next post in this series (No. 3) will take a look at some of those “alternate sources” with opposing views and what they have to say in the "Climate Wars." I hope to see you there.
Author's Note to commenters:
This is sure to be a controversial topic and I’m OK with that. I only ask that you keep your comments civil, respectful, informed and related to the particular subject matter discussed. As you can see from the topic list at the beginning of this post, there are plenty to topics to be talked about over the summer.
If your comment doesn't meet these reasonable standards for civility, or is off topic, don't expect a response. I’ll also flag the comment as inappropriate.
I also ask that if you dispute a claim, that you provide a link to a reputable source supporting your claim.
Disclaimer: I am not a climate scientist, nor do I claim to have scientific expertise in this subject. Scientific claims made in these posts will be sourced only from highly respected and accredited scientific organizations.