Thinking about Climate Change: Global Warming versus Climate Change

My last blog post was inspired by social media comments, such as “So much for global warming”, made after a few particularly cold days in Ohio. As I mentioned previously, some of the confusion about the topic of global warming may come from the terminology we use to describe it. In my last post I explored the difference between weather and climate. Other terms that can be confusing are global warming and global climate change. 

For years I have disliked the term global warming because I felt it gave people a misguided perception that temperature was the only issue impacting our environment as a result of increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. I thought everyone should only use the term global climate change. However, my own understanding of the two terms was improved during my recent participation in the National Network for Ocean and Climate Change Interpretation study group. 

Global warming refers to the documented increase in average global surface temperature. The exact amount of warming varies regionally, and a few places have experienced some cooler temperatures. The overall trend around the globe for the past 130 years has been warmer days and nights. This warming leads to melting glaciers, changes in ocean acidity, sea level rise, shifts in species habitat ranges and more. 

Global warming is part of a larger phenomenon known as global climate change. Global climate change refers to a whole suite of impacts induced by increasing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. These impacts include more frequent periods of extreme rainfall and drought, longer and more intense heat waves, changes in the availability of freshwater, increased flooding and more. 

Though I still sometimes cringe when I hear the term global warming, I understand that this term has a place in the conversation about global climate change. What I’ve learned is that, while these terms are different, both are valid if used correctly. It is important to remember, especially on cold wintery days in Ohio, that temperature is not the only issue resulting from increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. 


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About the Author

Photo of Courtney Price

Courtney Price

Courtney Price joined the COSI team in January, 2013 as the Director of Energy & Environmental Initiatives. Courtney enjoys gardening (at home and in the Team Garden at COSI), jogging, camping and spending time with her three pets, all adopted from local shelters.

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