climate change and global warming

“Climate change” and “global warming” are two terms that often used in a similar context but have two very distinct meanings. Similarly, the terms “weather” and “climate” are also sometimes confused, yet the difference is as simple as a measure of time. Scientists prefer to use “climate change” when describing the complex shifts now affecting our planet’s weather and climate systems.  “Climate change” encompasses global warming, but refers to the broader range of changes over time that are happening to our planet, including rising sea levels; shrinking mountain glaciers; accelerating ice melt in Greenland, Antarctica and the Arctic; and shifts in flower/plant blooming times. “Global warming” is not so much a result of the change in climate but more a symptom of climate change such as the rise in global temperatures due mainly to the increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. It also refers to the long-term warming of the planet.

Another distinction between global warming and climate change is that when scientists or public leaders talk about global warming these days, they almost always mean human-caused warming due to the rapid increase in carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases from people burning coal, oil, and gas.

Climate change, on the other hand, can mean human-caused changes or natural ones, such as ice ages. Besides burning fossil fuels, humans can cause climate changes by emitting aerosol pollution—the tiny particles that reflect sunlight and cool the climate— into the atmosphere, or by transforming the Earth’s landscape, for instance, from carbon-storing forests to farmland.

Regardless of whether you say that climate change is all the side effects of global warming, or that global warming is one symptom of human-caused climate change, you’re essentially talking about the same basic phenomenon: the build-up of excess heat energy in the Earth system.

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