Are Climate Change and Global Warming the Same Thing?

Are Climate Change and Global Warming the Same Thing

Are Climate Change and Global Warming the Same Thing? We live in a world where terms like the greenhouse effect, climate change, and global warming get tossed around on a daily basis. Often, they’re seemingly used interchangeably. No one would blame you for assuming, inferring, really, that they’re the same thing. Particularly climate change and global warming which are the two terms most often used as if they were synonymous. Would it surprise you to learn, however, that they’re, in fact, quite different? When you hear experts talk about global warming, they don’t mean the same thing as when they talk about climate change? Yeah? Don’t be! This article is here to help you never make the mistake or get confused again. In fact, you’ll be able to impress your friends by pointing out when the terms are used incorrectly in debates between politicians or fake experts.

Here we are to tell you that climate change and global warming, while similar and related, are far from being the same. 

Climate Change: What is it?

Let’s start this article out right. We told you that the two terms, climate change and global warming, aren’t the same thing, now let’s talk about what they each are. Let’s start with climate change. Climate change is a general term that is used to describe changes in the climate over time. Not just from one year to the next, though that is an important measure in the grander scheme of things, but over decades, centuries, even millennia. When you hear about a year being the hottest on record, or record amounts of rainfall, etc., those are all measures to track changes in climate.

This also isn’t a measure that is country specific. While you may hear that California had the longest drought in its history, that doesn’t just exist as an important fact in the vacuum of California’s history, or even America’s history, that’s an important fact for the whole world. That fact is then compared to other climate measures worldwide to see if there’s a pattern. Did another country have a particularly brutal dry season? Did somewhere else report more rainfall than they have in decades? Any climate and weather conditions that are out of the ordinary are tracked and put together to see if there’s an overarching change globally. If there is, then that means climate change is happening. If there isn’t then it could just be a fluke.

There is a Change

Let us tell you, though, there is definitely a change happening in the world’s climate. There are increased numbers of intense storms, longer and harsher dry spells, longer and colder winters, all around the globe. There’s no denying that. Just look at the records. Heck, even talk to your parents, grandparents, or elders in your community, you’re sure to hear about how the weather used to be different than it is now!

Now that you have an idea of what climate change is, let’s move on to our next hot button term.

Global Warming: What is it?-Are Climate Change and Global Warming the Same Thing?

While climate change tracks, rather obviously, changes in the world’s climate, global warming is also pretty self-explanatory. Global warming refers to the increase in the world’s temperature as a whole. This change is mainly considered to be due to an increase in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

Greenhouse gases are gases, often naturally occurring that create a greenhouse effect on the world. We’ve all been in a greenhouse. You know that what makes them special and perfect for growing tropical plants in non-tropical places or keeping your plants alive in the dead of winter is the fact that they manage to keep their interiors nice and toasty while keeping out any frigid weather that could kill off your precious greenery. Greenhouse gases do that for the whole planet by absorbing infrared radiation from the sun, thus making the planet warmer.

Greenhouse Gases

The term greenhouse gas may be a little vague, so here’s the list, there are 18, so grab a pen, but don’t worry, there won’t be a quiz:

1) methane

2) carbon dioxide

3) nitrous oxide

4) sulfur hexafluoride

5) carbon monoxide

6) water (When it’s not in its liquid or solid state, obviously!)

7) ozone

8) hexafluoroethane

9) 1,1,1,2-tetrafluoroethane

10) chlorofluorocarbon

11) difluoromethane

12) hydrofluorocarbon

13) trichlorofluoromethane

14) pentafluoroethane

15) dichlorodifluoromethane

16) cfc 113

17) 1,2-dichlorotetrafluoroethane

18) chlorotrifluoromethane.

That’s a long list, right? Most of those are probably gases you’ve never even heard about, but some of them you have! Like we said, greenhouse gases are naturally occurring, and in their typical amounts, the earth can usually process them enough to limit the greenhouse effect. At least for long amounts of time (like thousands and thousands, if not millions, of years). When there’s an increase, though? Like when there are more farms that cause an increase in methane, for example?  Then the earth isn’t able to handle all the gases, they accumulate in the atmosphere, and lead to the greenhouse effect occurring more rapidly than it would have naturally. 

Did we clear things up in the differences between these two terms? Good! Did we confuse you as well? Don’t worry, keep reading and we’ll clear things up for you.

Which is Worse?-Are Climate Change and Global Warming the Same Thing?

Now that you know that climate change and global warming aren’t, in fact, one and the same, you might start to wonder if one is worse than the other. Global warming might not be so bad. Who likes freezing their butt off in the middle of winter? Climate change might not be too terrible if you don’t like the weather where you live.

That’s the wrong way of thinking! You have to think of the big picture. While both global warming and climate change are natural phenomena that have happened since the beginning of time, the reason we talk about them is because they’re both occurring at a faster rate than they would naturally under normal circumstances without human involvement and intervention that causes an increase in their speed of development. Neither global warming nor climate change are good things for the planet, at least, not when they’re talked about in the context they are on the news or in scientific journals and documentaries.

The Science-Are Climate Change and Global Warming the Same Thing?

The term climate change, however, is considered to be more scientific. It’s a little more accurate as it can be witnessed worldwide, regardless of the change. Global warming can be tricky. When there’s a particularly cold and snowy winter, terms like global warming can be thrown around as describing an inaccurate event and as something that isn’t real.

Especially by people who don’t believe in its existence or who don’t want to believe. Big companies that contribute to greenhouse gas distribution and emission, for example, may look at an icy winter and say that global warming isn’t actually a concern. After all, if the earth were getting warmer in a dangerous way, there wouldn’t be more ice, right? Instead the term climate change can mitigate this argument. More ice than normal, more snow, a colder winter, anything that isn’t a literal change caused by an increase in temperature, is still a change in the earth’s climate.

It’s such a well-liked term that it’s been around since the 1930s. Think about it. 80 years later and the term is still being used. That’s not all that common in the science world. Often words or terms are changed as new information comes in. Diseases and disorders are changed to be more accurate the more we learn about them. Terms come to be considered outdated or no longer applicable. Not climate change though. It was such a perfect term to describe the event that was being witnessed even then that it’s stuck all these decades later.

Let’s Be Specific

While still a scientific term, and still used to describe a very specific event, global warming is often only used when describing the specific rise in global temperatures and not in the context of the climate crisis as a whole. Think about it this way, climate change is used as an umbrella term to talk about this crisis, it covers basically everything you could think of regarding it. Global warming, instead, is used only to describe specifically…well, the warming of the globe.

The problem is, global warming is what has stuck in popular culture. Whether because it was used by the right celebrity or on the right show, it’s the term that most people are used to, even if it’s a newer one. You probably remember hearing about global warming for years before you ever heard about the term climate change. You have to imagine scientists have been metaphorically beating their heads against their lab walls for years because of that! Sure! Global warming brought the issue to the public consciousness, and, for a while, that was good enough!

Now, though, in the age of Twitter and YouTube, where anyone and everyone can put their voice out there, and in the age of 24 hour news cycles where to keep you watching, often times radical debates are had and doomsday reporting is done, it makes the global warming term a little dicier to use. When used correctly, there’s no harm.

The Earth is Warming

Especially because the earth is getting warmer and that is a real problem that needs to be addressed. The warming of the globe contributes to climate change, after all. Yet, too many people who aren’t experts have adopted the term for themselves and are able to have a huge audience talking about a very complex issue they don’t quite understand. That’s not quite as beneficial to the scientific community who often have to run around putting out fires (Not literally! Though climate change and global warming have led to an increase in actual wildfires!) caused by people who misuse the terms.

This was a depressing section, we’re really sorry about that! It’s not exactly a happy topic! While we can’t promise this next section will be any better as far as being able to lift your spirits, maybe having some facts will help you put things in perspective. At the very least, maybe it will take some of the edge off. So, let’s go!

Global Warming and Climate Change: Facts You Should Know

1) The warmest years on record have occurred in the last 20 years:

You may have noticed hotter summers. Or maybe just longer summers. If you’re used to living in places where there are changes in the seasons, you may still be accustomed to three month weather cycles. Three months of mild weather that slowly gets warmer, three months of hot weather, three months of mild weather again that, this time, slowly gets cooler, and three months of cold weather. Well, since the global temperatures have started to rise drastically, it seems like in many places the weather has changed to be more of a six month of hot weather and six month of cold weather cycle with less of a buffer in between.

2) Over 10% of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, which we know cause the greenhouse effect and contribute to global warming, are caused by deforestation:

 That means cutting down forests, especially in a non-sustainable way (wherein trees are cut down only as fast as they’re able to regrow) is bad on multiple fronts. Not only does this practice put animal and plant species at risk for endangerment or even extinction and reduce the amount of oxygen in the atmosphere, it speeds up the global warming process. This is likely due to how much carbon monoxide the forests of the world absorb. Without them, that carbon monoxide has nowhere to go and instead hangs out in the atmosphere. Plants are our friends! So, recycle, try to stick with forest allied companies, plant a tree or support initiatives that aim to do so, and maybe we can save the forests, and even our planet!

3) Climate change initiatives could create more jobs-Are Climate Change and Global Warming the Same Thing?

People have done a lot of damage to the globe and the atmosphere over the past 200 years. It can’t just be reversed or halted overnight. It would take massive overhauls and giant projects to even come close to being able to stabilize the planet enough to keep the worst of climate change and global warming at bay. That may seem like we’re taking an “all is lost” approach to the topic. That’s not it at all! The opposite! These projects would be beneficial not just for the planet, but for people too! Not just because it would preserve the place we all call home, but because these initiatives would create upwards of millions of jobs worldwide. People say the oil industry is good for the job market? The climate change reduction industry would be even better!

4) Climate change isn’t just a problem for the future

We’ve all heard the news stories. We have x amount of time to get a handle on climate change before the effects are irreversible or if things keep going as they are currently then we’ll be facing potential mass crises in this number of years. It makes it seem like climate change is a problem that we should be concerned with now, yes, but because it will be a problem in the future. That’s not the case though.  This article has already mentioned that climate change is a global phenomenon. Stronger storms and rising temperatures have been noticed worldwide, but right this minute over 10% of the world’s population is currently living with the effects of global warming on a day to day basis.  This is because of heat waves, rising sea-levels, and more that, in some areas of the world, cause immediate impact for people.

5) It’s a global effort-Are Climate Change and Global Warming the Same Thing?

Climate change is a global issue, so to resolve it, a global solution is needed. Luckily, many countries are in agreement on this fact.  189 countries signed the Paris Agreement which was a pact aimed to lower greenhouse emissions and protect nature in an attempt to curb the worst of the effects already in motion from climate change. The Paris Agreement isn’t a perfect solution, it’s a pledge more than a strict promise. It’s also been rocky in its implementation with some countries taking a slower approach or pushing for more lenient deadlines, but it’s one step in the right direction and, at the very least, it shows that governments worldwide are at least a little bit aware that climate change is a solution that needs to be resolved together. 

6) It’s Not a Man-Made Problem, but Humans Have Made it Worse

We’ve already covered that climate change and global warming are naturally occurring phenomena. Greenhouse gases are natural and would, over time, collect in the atmosphere and cause the globe’s temperature to rise. This, as well as just time in itself, would cause changes in the earth’s climate. After all, the ice age we are all the most familiar with was caused by volcanic eruptions. That was a major change to the earth’s climate. However, since the 1950s, climate change has sped up. That’s all due to humans. Increased use of fossil fuels, more factory farming, deforestation, all of that has contributed greatly to climate change and the current climate crisis we’re all facing.

7) The World’s Temperature Has Already Gone Up-Are Climate Change and Global Warming the Same Thing?

Global warming is a real thing. If you’re reading this article, you probably already know that. However, it’s hard to know just how much of an effect it’s had if you’re not a scientist. Well, let’s try to break it down. The earth typically has an average temperature as a whole. Yes, Antarctica and Ecuador have different general temperatures, but the globe has one average temperature which is tracked to track global warming.

This average number is important in order to maintain the balance the world has to have to keep sea-levels from rising too much, to keep ice in the arctic and antarctic, and hundreds of other necessary things to keep ecosystems from falling apart so plants and animals across the globe can continue to survive and thrive. The problem is that this balance has already been thrown off. The average global temperature has already risen since scientists have begun to track it. That’s not good news, but there’s hope. As long as it doesn’t rise much (or any) more, then, while some damage has already been done, it should keep things from getting too dire.

8) Sea-levels Are Still Rising

Despite efforts that are being implemented to halt the rise of sea-levels, scientists say they’re still expected to rise by upwards of nearly 6 feet before the end of the century. This is due to the rise in global temperatures causing glaciers and ice caps to melt at rapid rates. It also means many island countries and cities that lie below sea-level (including places like Venice which has seen rising water levels for years) are in danger of disappearing or are, at least, facing large scale floods that could cause evacuations of certain areas.

The interventions that are hopefully on their way to keep the worst of climate change from occurring likely won’t be able to completely halt these rises in sea-level as the events that would cause them have already passed. However, hopefully, with any luck, this rise will be on the lower-end of the estimation. About half a meter, or just over 1.5 feet is the lowest estimation for water levels across the globe. That’s still drastic and not news anyone wants to hear, but, we’ll admit, it’s better than the worst case scenario.


This article has been a bit gloomy, we’ll admit, but it’s a gloomy topic! We can’t put a positive spin on something that isn’t positive at all and will affect the entire planet! Sorry! Hopefully, however, you came out of this article having learned something new. Like the difference between climate change and global warming! What they each mean and how important it is that we understand and combat them both. As well as a little list of facts that, while not exactly light-hearted, will hopefully put the climate change crisis in perspective for you. There’s still work to do to save the planet! So get to it!

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