In debates about the future of our planet, the terms Global Warming and Climate Change are guaranteed to come up. However, the two are often used synonymously when really, the describe two different — but interconnected — phenomena.
For today’s blog post, we want to discuss the difference between global warming and climate change to create some insight into these two important terms that are unavoidable regarding our future on this planet. Because we are not scientists, we will refer to resources provided by NASA and hope we can inspire you to look into these two topics more.
Ever since the pre-industrial period between 1850 and 1900, human activity in the industrial sector has increasingly led to harmful emissions that affect the average temperature of our planet. Many of the gases produced in the process are so-called greenhouse gases which can remain in the Earth’s atmosphere for a long time (up to thousands of years!) and consequently absorb and trap heat there. This is known as the greenhouse effect. Man-made emissions have led to an increase of our planet’s global average temperature by about 1 degree Celsius. As of now, this number is increasing by about 0,2 degrees Celsius per decade. While this might not seem like a lot in theory, extreme weather conditions and temperatures emphasise how drastic this increase in the Earth’s average temperature really is. According to the IPCC, “it is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean, and land.”
With regard to Climate Change, it is important to understand the difference between the weather and the climate first. While weather refers to local, temporary atmospheric conditions, such as rain, snow, or winds, climate refers to long-term patterns of temperature, humidity, and rainfall over longer periods of time on a regional or even global level.Since climate refers to long-term patterns, it makes sense that the term climate change describes long-term changes to the average weather patterns that usually define local, regional or global climates. Furthermore, climate change does not only describe how these average patterns change but also what effect these changes have on our planet and our lives. According to NASA, “changes observed in Earth’s climate since the mid-20th century are driven by human activities, particularly fossil fuel burning, which increases heat-trapping green house gas levels in Earth’s atmosphere, raising Earth’s average surface temperature.” This emphasises the interconnection between climate change and global warming. However while global warming can mostly be attributed to human activity, other non-human factors can contribute to climate change. This includes “internal variability (e.g., cyclical ocean patterns like El Niño, La Niña and the Pacific Decadal Oscillation) and external forcings (e.g., volcanic activity, changes in the Sun’s energy output, variations in the Earth’s orbit).”To monitor climate change, scientists consider key indicators such as temperature increases of land or ocean, rising sea levels, melting ice caps or glaciers, extreme weather events such as “hurricanes, heatwaves, wildfires, droughts, floods, and precipitation” as well as changes in cloud or vegetation cover.
We hope that this blog post could give you a brief overview of global warming and climate change and most importantly, how important they are for our futures on this planet. Perhaps you’ll feel inspired to find out more and do some research on how global warming and climate change affected our pasts, presents and futures. When you do, make sure to look into credible sources provided by official institutions.