Global Warming vs. Climate Change

           Global Warming vs Climate Change

Have you wondered why ‘climate change’ has replaced ‘global warming’ as the term of choice in public discourse over the past 20 years?  The term ‘global warming’ entered the popular lexicon after NASA scientist James Hansen testified before Congress in 1988 about climate, specifically referring to global warming.  But a change in terminology was orchestrated by conservative strategists during the Bush administration.  In 2001, a Republican consultant and global warming skeptic, Frank Luntz, drafted a memo to conservative politicians with advice on communicating about the environment based on focus group analysis.  In this memo he advocated for the terminology change because climate change is ‘less frightening’ to the public than global warming.  As one focus group participant noted, climate change “sounds like you’re going from Pittsburgh to Fort Lauderdale.” While global warming has catastrophic connotations attached to it, climate change suggests a more controllable and less emotional challenge. A campaign to use the more benign phrasing followed.

Actually, these terms are not interchangeable; they denote related but separate physical phenomena.  There are many factors that affect global climate change, but recent anthropogenic changes to the atmosphere, primarily due to emissions from burning fossil fuels and the greenhouse effect, have resulted in global warming.  This atmospheric warming is a major cause of climate change.

It’s interesting to note that today most scientific research organizations, like the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), have emphasized global climate change and not global warming.  That’s because temperature change itself isn’t the only severe effect of changing climate. Changes to precipitation patterns and sea levels are likely to have much greater human impact than the higher temperatures alone. For this reason, scientific research on climate change encompasses far more than surface temperature change. So “global climate change” is the more all-inclusive term.

Both climate change and global warming are still a reality. Whether referred to as global warming or climate change, the consequences of the enormous changes currently being observed in Earth’s climate system are undeniable. That’s why we need our leaders to listen to the science and accept reality – instead of splitting hairs over terminology.

You can call it global warming or climate change, but it’s the biggest crisis humanity has ever faced.

Condensed from and The Climate Reality Project
Submitted by M. Longley 2/22/2020

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