Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Terminology Tuesday: "Global Warming" or "Climate Change?"

The terms "global warming" and "climate change" are often used interchangeably. I've pretty much used "global warming" over the years, but now I'm making the switch to "climate change:" It's the term used by the United Nations, academia, and it's more inclusive, since "change" can refer to increased rain, drought, or any type of weather event other than just warming.

So is there really a difference in definitions?

Yes, according to the Environmental Protection Agency:

Climate change refers to any significant change in measures of climate (such as temperature, precipitation, or wind) lasting for an extended period (decades or longer). Climate change may result from:

  • natural factors, such as changes in the sun's intensity or slow changes in the Earth's orbit around the sun;
  • natural processes within the climate system (e.g. changes in ocean circulation);
  • human activities that change the atmosphere's composition (e.g. through burning fossil fuels) and the land surface (e.g. deforestation, reforestation, urbanization, desertification, etc.)

Global warming is an average increase in the temperature of the atmosphere near the Earth's surface and in the troposphere, which can contribute to changes in global climate patterns. Global warming can occur from a variety of causes, both natural and human induced. In common usage, "global warming" often refers to the warming that can occur as a result of increased emissions of greenhouse gases from human activities.

The EPA goes on to say that the term "climate change" is growing in preferred use as opposed to "global warming" because "climate change" conveys that there are other changes happening to the planet, in addition to rising temperatures.

Do you use one term over the other? Why?

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