Climate Change or Global Warming?

In 2008, the Medway Messenger ran Climate Camp 2008 – The Debate and one of the online participants asked:

“Finally can somebody enlighten me as to the difference between global warming and climate change – as far as I can tell it’s global warming when it’s hot and sunny and climate change when it’s cold, raining and miserable…

In response, I posted this text:

“… they are generally used inter-changeably with climate change being a more understandable phrase.

“Having said that, these are the basic definitions.

“Global warming: an overall warming of the planet, based on average temperature over the entire surface.

“Climate change: changes in regional climate characteristics, including temperature, humidity, rainfall, wind, and severe weather events.”

I have always disliked the way the two phrases are used interchangeably and consider “climate change” to be the more helpful description to the lay-person.  The problem in my experience with the description “global warming” is the expectation by some lay-people that this translates to no cold weather etc.  Of course, my experience is not the least scientific so it was interesting to read an article on the R & D web site about a scientific study comparing the two descriptions.

The study by the University of Michigan found that more people believe in “climate change” than in “global warming.”

For the research, a question wording experiment was conducted and participants were asked to report their level of certainty about whether climate change is a serious problem. In the following question, half the participants heard one version, half heard the other:

“You may have heard about the idea that the world’s temperature may have been going up [changing] over the past 100 years, a phenomenon sometimes called ‘global warming’ [‘climate change’]. What is your personal opinion regarding whether or not this has been happening?”

74% thought the problem was real when referred to as “climate change” whilst about 68% percent thought it real when referred to as “global warming”.

Approaching storm, Arizona

Approaching storm, Arizona – climate change or global warming? US Scientists believe that higher global temperatures will result in more ‘extreme weather events’ such as storms, floods and droughts. Photo: Gene Rhoden/Still Pictures

The article also quotes a co-author of the study as saying:

“The extent of the partisan divide [the political orientation, Democrat or Republican] on this issue depends heavily on question wording. When the issue is framed as global warming, the partisan divide is nearly 42 percentage points. But when the frame is climate change, the partisan divide drops to about 26 percentage points.”

David M. Davison


4 Responses to “Climate Change or Global Warming?”

  1. Should we act on the climate change information we have been fed?

    I think this little post of mine illustrates that dilemma very well.




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