Global warming versus climate change

Global warming versus climate change

The term climate change is often used as if it means the same thing as the term global warming. According to the National Academy of Sciences; however, "the phrase ‘climate change' is growing in preferred use to ‘global warming' because it helps convey that there are [other] changes in addition to rising temperatures."

Climate change refers to any distinct change in measures of climate lasting for a long period of time. In other words, "climate change" means major changes in temperature, rainfall, snow, or wind patterns lasting for decades or longer. Climate change may result from:

  • natural factors, such as changes in the Sun's energy 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 make-up (e.g, burning fossil fuels) and the land surface (e.g., cutting down forests, planting trees, building developments in cities and suburbs, etc.).

Global warming is an average increase in temperatures near the Earth's surface and in the lowest layer of the atmosphere. Increases in temperatures in our Earth's atmosphere can contribute to changes in global climate patterns. Global warming can be considered part of climate change along with changes in precipitation, sea level, etc.

Global change is a broad term that refers to changes in the global environment, including climate change, ozone depletion, and land use change.

For more information, please vist the EPA's website on Climate Change.

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