This past week, Students on Climate Change have been focusing on terminology to equip our readers with the right words to start an intelligent and accurate discussion about climate. Whenever I start talking to people about climate change, one of the first questions I always get is “so what exactly is the difference between climate change and global warming”
The trouble is, depending on the person you are talking to, they can mean the same thing or something completely different. Many people (especially journalists reporting on the topic) use the two interchangeably, which has led to a lot of unnecessary confusion. For this reason, I have set out to clearly describe the difference between the two. The tricky part is these two terms are related.
Global warming specifically refers to the increase in the average temperature. This is caused by people adding greenhouse gasses to the atmosphere (like carbon dioxide) from burning fossil fuels. As the amount of gas builds up in the atmosphere, it causes the Earth to trap extra heat making the planet as a whole warmer.
Climate change, on the other hand, includes warming and the other “side effects” of warming like changes in weather patterns, melting glaciers, more frequent droughts, and many others. Average temperature is a global change, while climate refers local environments.
The main idea is that journalists or people are not wrong for talking about global warming, but climate change does a better job of accurately describing what is happening.
If you still have questions, here are some other excellent resources to check out!