September 21, 2018

Global Warming and Climate Change

  —What's the difference between global warming and climate change?

During a conversation about the weather with a colleague I mentioned global warming. They immediately corrected me, stating we were experiencing climate change.

Since that conversation, I’ve worried about my understanding of these terms and gotten a glimpse how words can shape our thinking.

By shifting the conversation from global warming to climate change my colleague attempt to reframe the conversation in a way that presented recent weather patterns as a natural phenomena.

The difference between these two terms is embedded in whether humanity has some responsibility for the change in climate.

Turning to Wikipedia:

Climate change is a change in the statistical distribution of weather patterns when that change lasts for an extended period of time (i.e., decades to millions of years). Climate change may refer to a change in average weather conditions, or in the time variation of weather around longer-term average conditions (i.e., more or fewer extreme weather events). Climate change is caused by factors such as biotic processes, variations in solar radiation received by Earth, plate tectonics, and volcanic eruptions. Certain human activities have also been identified as significant causes of recent climate change, often referred to as global warming.

It looks like global warming is attributed to human activity and contributes to climate change, but climate change is not entirely the result of human activity.

In my colleague’s mind, the temperature increases over the last 18 months are a change in average and longer-term average weather conditions.

In effect, I associate new weather patterns with human activity. My colleague much less so (perhaps, not at all).

I don’t know what scares me more:

  • accepting that humans can’t influence global warming, or
  • that people think these trends are a natural phenomena.

Only time will tell.

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