Climate Change Vs. Global Warming

“When the last tree is cut, the last fish is caught, and the last river is polluted; when to breathe the air is sickening, you will realize, too late, that wealth is not in bank accounts and that you cannot eat money.”

Alanis Obomsawim

The world in modern times is grappling with how human activities affect Earth’s global climate. Tangible impacts and climate change caused by global warmings, such as melting glaciers and ice sheets, rising sea levels and changes in seasonal temperatures and precipitation patterns, among many such devastating impacts. With burning fossil fuels and poisonous gases for many decades, humankind has amplified the greenhouse effect at an alarming level, raising the planet’s sustainability.

With the changes in the climate becoming obvious and harmful, scientists warn about the long-term impact of the climate crisis and how such changes will impact the species.

Often the terms “Global Warming” and “Climate Change” are used interchangeably by the media and various other public platforms discussing the role of fossil fuels is damaging the environment. While the two terms are and can be used interchangeably, the two are distinct phenomena that need to be discussed and the result of cause and effect relationships. So, understanding the fundamental difference between the two would mean understanding the two concepts, their evolution and the real difference between them?

What is Global Warming?

Global warming describes the increase in the global average temperatures. The global average temperature is projected to increase by 3 – 7 degrees F by 2100, causing irreversible damage to the worldwide ecosystem and biodiversity.

According to the US Geological Survey (USGS), global warming results from a build-up of greenhouse gases that trap heat in the Earth’s lower atmosphere. The phenomenon results in a gradual increase in average temperatures across the globe, leading to severe damaging impacts on the planet. In the words of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), “every 0.5 ° C additional temperature of global warming causes a “clearly discernible increase in the intensity and frequency of hot extremes including heatwaves, as well as agricultural and ecological droughts”.

The impact of global warming could be so harsh that according to a report released by the UN (in May 2019), most of the destruction and extinction of various species (animals and plants) have been due to human activities and have occurred since 1900. The report indicated that roughly a million species are further at the brink of extinction and that the native species in land-based bio-systems have fallen by approx.. 20%.

Some of the examples of various global events that are the aftermath of global warming are:

  • According to the National Resources Defense Council, increased temperature causes heatwaves in areas unused due to extreme summer heat, making them unfit for usage for agricultural purposes or any other such purpose.
  • According to data issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (as of January 2021), more than 600 deaths occur yearly due to extreme heat in the USA alone. The data for the rest of the world would be much higher and much scarier to comprehend.
  • US Environmental Protection Agency observed that global warming increases air pollution by increasing the ozone layer and that nitrogen oxide NO2 and volatile organic compounds react to sunlight creating ground-level ozone. Furthermore, Frontiers in Immunology published a journal that predicts that by 2050, global warming could increase the number of ozone-warming by 68% in the United States alone. The rise would hugely impact the breathability of outdoor air for people at large and specifically for people with respiratory issues.
  • Melting ice caps caused due to global warming would lead to the sea-level rise at unprecedented levels. Some reports suggest that the sea-level rise will be around 4ft by 2100 due to the rising temperatures.
  • Global warming impacts the rise in temperatures which will harm the wildlife in a much more negative way than anticipated. Extreme temperatures may lead to many species extinction from the ecosystem entirely.

Although average global temperatures were cooled by the 2020-2022 La Niña effect, 2021 was still one of the seven warmest years on record, according to the data compiled by the World Meteorological Organization. Global warming is expected to continue due to record levels of heat-trapping greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

The average global temperature in 2021 was about 1.11 (± 0.13) °C above the pre-industrial (1850-1900) levels. 2021 is the seventh consecutive year (2015-2021) where the global temperature has been over one-degree Celcius above pre-industrial levels“, according to all the data compiled by the WMO.

What is Climate Change?

“Climate” describes the weather conditions expected in a region at a particular time of the year. Thus, climate change describes the regional/ global changes in climate patterns due to the “greenhouse effect“. It covers a wide range of weather, climate and surface temperature changes on the Earth. Climate Change includes changes in global weather patterns, which might impact the precipitation averages and extremes.

Some of the examples of climate change are:

  • Warming of Northern part of the Northern Hemisphere, thereby warming a major part of the globe.
  • Increase in rainfall in some parts of the world, while the part of the world suffers from severe droughts—two extremes at a time.
  • Unexpected hail storms, dust storms and snowfall, disrupt lives and livelihoods and throw them completely out of gear.

The changes that occur due to climate change would include:

  • Ecological Imbalance
  • Rising sea-levels
  • Changes in ocean humidity and circulation
  • Social impacts

The above are some of the impacts which can be further devastated since the increased concentrations of carbon dioxide will stay in the atmosphere for thousands of years, so the Earth will continue to warm in the decades to come. Furthermore, the warmer the planet becomes, the higher the risk for severe changes to the climate and the Earth’s system.

Although it is challenging to predict the exact impacts of climate change, it is clear that the climate we are accustomed to is not a precursor to what the future holds for the planet.

Origin of the phrases “Climate Change” and “Global Warming.”

While the two terms can be used interchangeably, they originated at different times and under different scenarios:

The term “Global Warming” was first mentioned by a journalist in Indiana’sThe Hammond Times” under the phrase “a large scale of global warming“, which in turn came from the research conducted by the Oceanographer Roger Revelle in the year 1957 discussion on how much does the ocean absorbs heat?

However, until 1975, the term “Global Warming” was used in the influential scientific paper “Climate Change: Are we on the brink of a Pronounced Global Warming” by prof. Wallace Broecker at the Columbia University.

Hereafter, climate scientists frequently used global warming and climatic change. However, the exact term “Climate Change” originated much later and first gained its proper understanding in the year 1979 when a scientific paper was published under the title “Carbon Di Oxide (CO2) and climate change: A scientific Assessment”.

Henceforth, climate change got its mention and earned its actual value when in 1988, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was formed. It was formed to advance knowledge on human-induced climate change and is an intergovernmental body of the United Nations. With the formation of the IPCC, climate change, its impacts and reporting structure and procedure became more streamlined and gave the researchers a dedicated field of study to innovate and invent technologies to curb the climate crisis.

The terms climate change and global warming have been used in everyday conversations and almost in all fields, and there is not much difference between the two, yet the two possess some underlined differences. It is essential to understand such differences:

Differences between Global Warming and Climate Change

Global WarmingClimate Change
Broad PerspectiveIs the long-term warming of the planetIs a broader range of changes on the planet resulting in natural events like hurricanes and extreme heat
Causes​Caused due to CO2 and other greenhouse gases​Human factors or Natural changes on Earth.
ExamplesRising global sea temperature of 1.5°F since 1901Rise of the surface temperature of the planet Earth​Changes in plant’s blooming time (i.e., either late or early)New weather patterns, the disappearance of Ice, droughts, and many such impacts.
Features​Is the increase in Earth’s average temperature​Includes increasing temperatures, changes in wind and precipitation, lengthening of seasons and increased strength and frequency of extreme wealth.
Global/ RegionalWorldwide phenomenonEither global or regional
Recent/ Ancient Phenomenon​A relatively recent phenomenon, i.e., it is occurring due to fossil fuels and greenhouse gases.​It is an old phenomenon happening through various stages of Earth’s evolution, like the Ice-Ages, and it is both human-caused and Natural.

In summary, global warming and climate change are interchangeable and are used more frequently than ever, but there is a distinct difference between the two. Despite being distinctive, human interference is the common factor that has led to both phenomena. It is, therefore, essential to note that both are threats to every living being on the planet.

The bottom line is that today’s global warming is an unprecedented type of climate change and is having a catastrophic impact on the climate system, and it is these impacts, and it is these impacts that are having a more significant impact on the ecosystem biodiversity and society. The changes are grave enough to impact every life and livelihood than the rising temperatures alone, Through collective and collaborative action, we can curb the imminent threat and bring about the change.

Changes in government policies, regulatory mechanisms, implementation and monitoring of the policies and regulations framed, the global participation and above all, the individual participation and consensus that the climate is changing and we collectively have to act to curb the crisis is essential to bring the change.

After all, there is no Planet B!











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