Climate change global warming | What's the difference? 

Climate change global warming are not the same.

The simple way to see the difference is that global warming is climate change in one direction, the warming phase. This happens when the global atmosphere and ocean systems receive a net gain in energy from the sun. This can be because the sun is hotter, the earth is closer to the sun or the insulation properties of the atmosphere are more efficient.  

But climate change can also see the earth colder, where there is less energy received and stored. In fact cold is more the norm than warm. Geological evidence suggests that there have been at least 5 major ice ages [periods of extended global cooling] that have lasted longer than the warm periods.

There was an especially extended period of cold called the Cryogenian from 800-635 million years ago. This cold spell lasted longer than dinosaurs existed and more than 50 times the 3 million years that the genus <i>Homo</i> has been around.

During the extremes of cold ice was even present at the equator in what are currently tropical climes. 

Right now we are actually still in a cold period that began at the start of the Pleistocene epoch 2.5 million years ago.

So over geological and evolutionary time, periods of cold and shorter periods of warmth are what happens on our planet. Climate change global warming is quite normal. 

The precise causes of these changes are not fully understood but are a complex combination of:

  • atmospheric composition
  • position of the continents [ice ages may start when continents block the flow of water from the tropics to the poles]
  • fluctuations in ocean currents
  • uplift of the Tibetan plateau
  • variation in the Earths orbit (Milankovitch cycles)
  • sun's energy output
  • vulcanism

In scientific terms global warming is a specific type of change where the combination of causes results in more energy in the atmosphere and oceans and an overall warming.    

This is the explanation of the physical phenomenon, the objective one used by the scientists.

climate change global warming | snow on Mount Pilatus

We prefer global warming?

A Google search suggests that global warming is a more popular term than climate change in the climate change global warming options. Maybe because warming is a cozy, pleasant kind of thing you can do in front of the fire.

For quite a while it was warming that everyone - activists, media people and politicians together - talked about. The earth is getting hotter.

Only this warming was happening because of the greenhouse effect that comes about due to the composition of the atmosphere, the first on the list of climate change causes.

The quick explanation for this anthropogenic global warming is this...

Energy arriving on the earth's surface has short wavelengths able to pass readily through the atmosphere. Bouncing off the surface lengthens the wavelength and some of the gases in the atmosphere can block these longer wavelengths and return the energy back down to earth again. The net result is that some of the energy is trapped heating things up. If the proportion of the gases able to block the longer wavelengths increases then we have global warming.

What has happened is that we have latched onto this explanation and now believe that global warming happens primarily because the concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are on the increase.

Not only that but we have calculated that our efforts in burning fossil fuels and clearing land for agriculture are sufficient to make any current warming our fault.

Is it climate change global warming?

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the UNFCCC, is a political and diplomatic institution. It defines climate change as attributed solely to human causes. The implication is that the world will warm and this warming is because of human actions.

But go back to the scientists and we get something different.

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the IPCC, who are mostly climate scientists, define climate change as coming from any cause, human or natural. In other words the world might cool as easily as it might warm up. This makes sense given the scientific evidence from the distant past.

The IPCC says climate change, the UNFCCC says global warming.

Pragmatology | How to choose?

If you are an objective type of person then climate simply changes to get hotter or colder, wetter or drier. You are more likely to accept that are many causes.

If you’re more of a right brainer who grasps climate change as an idea, you might take climate change to mean warming.

The important thing is that climate can get warmer and it can get colder. It can get wetter or drier. There can be more intense storms or it can be calm. And all of these things can be more or less predictable from place to place.

Most important of all climate change has many, often interacting, causes.

The politicians listened to their spin-doctors. They stopped talking about global warming in favor of climate change when they realized that it was better to widen the discourse.

Instead they added an adjective and now talking of dangerous climate change or catastrophic climate change… but that is another story.

You can read more about the climate change global warming conundrum on our sister website, — here  are some popular pages...  global warming | what is climate change? | climate change effects | what causes climate change?

› climate change global warming

Confused Confucius spurned the monastic life for the world of work, moral conundrums and mobile devices. His sayings, questions and incongruous idioms on the environment and modern life bring delight and bafflement in equal measure...  check out more Confused Confucius sayings.

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