Sophie Berning

Global warming, climate change and global change. These three terms – while they might seem interchangeable – each have their own meaning. These terms have been thrown into the limelight by political figures, but to understand a political topic one must first understand the terminology.

Climate change, according to the U.S. Global Research Program, is a “change in average weather condition[s] that persist over multiple decades or longer. Climate change encompasses both increases and decreases in temperature, as well as shifts in precipitation, changing risk[s] of certain types of severe weather events, and changes to other features of the climate system.”

Climate change is the universal term because it refers to unusual increases and decreases in temperatures as well as abnormalities in the weather. Climate change is the umbrella term for things such as global warming.

The term global warming, however, is very specific and cannot be appropriately used in many contexts. According to NASA global warming is “the increase in Earth’s average surface temperature due to rising levels of greenhouse gases.” Global warming is appropriate to use when specifically talking about the warming of one large area of Earth or a specific region.

Many politicians have claimed global warming to not be real because of the extremely cold temperatures in areas such as New York.

However, it is important to remember that according to the definition given by NASA global warming does not take place over the entirety of the globe; its effects are instead seen in specific regions.

Other phenomena that result from climate change include increases in wildfires, hurricanes, volcanic activity and extreme snowfall or rainfall which cause increased mudslides and avalanches. These phenomena do not fit under the category of global warming but instead under the term climate change.

The phrase global warming alone has been frequenting all social media and fostering debates between politicians.

Before ‘global warming’ became an arguing point between politicians and media users, it was talked about among the scientific community. In fact, ‘global warming’ did not appear in publication until 1975 when it first appeared in a scientific article titled “Climatic Change: Are We on the Brink of a Pronounced Global Warming?” written by a geochemist named Wallace Broecker.

Due to glacier melting, penguins and polar bears have been placed on the endangered species list because they can’t find food or a habitat. Cover Picture: NASA, Above Picture: NASA

According to NASA, “Broecker’s term was a break with tradition. Earlier studies of human impact on climate had called it ‘inadvertent climate modification’.”

This term was used because at the time scientist didn’t know if the world would heat up or cool down as a result of the particles placed in the atmosphere by humans.

Additionally, NASA states the term climate change wasn’t even officially used until 1979. In a National Academy of Science study on the effects of carbon dioxide on the climate by Jule Charney from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Charney said, “if carbon dioxide continues to increase, [we find] no reason to doubt that climate changes will result…”.

On top of the change of the terminology made by Charney NASA said that “Charney [also] adopted Broecker’s usage. When referring to surface temperature change, Charney used ‘global warming’.”

The term global warming hit the spotlight long before the 21st century. According to NASA, it was first thrown into the limelight “in June of 1988, when NASA scientist James E. Hansen had testified to Congress about [the] climate, specifically referring to global warming. He said ‘global warming has reached a level such that we can ascribe with a high degree of confidence a cause and effect relationship between the greenhouse effect and the observed warming.’ Hansen’s testimony was very widely reported in popular and business media, and after that, the popular use of the term global warming exploded.”

While it might seem as though global warming is the most dangerous effect of climate change according to NASA, “temperature change itself isn’t the most severe effect of changing climate…Changes to precipitation patterns and sea level are likely to have much greater human impact than the higher temperatures alone. For this reason, scientific research on climate change encompasses far more than surface temperature change, [global warming].”

Since the late 1980s and continuing into the beginning of 2018, global warming has seemed to be a term thrown around to get the public’s attention. While its name seems self-explanatory to those who use it, there is much left out when it comes to being correct. Using the correct terminology stops much-unneeded confusion and frustration when it comes to social media and politics.