So is it Climate Change or Global Warming?

In a blind fit of shamelessness and desperation, I have been begging everyone I know with a podcast or YouTube show to speak to me, so that I can have some sort of digital record of myself talking about climate change, hopefully in an intelligent manner. I am doing this for two main reasons:

1) to prove to anyone who will listen that I actually know what climate change is, that I can explain it in plain English, and that I have ideas on how to adapt/mitigate ongoing climate change.

2) make any kind of splash at all on the internet to make job hunting a little easier once I am inevitably back on LinkedIn, asking for a job. As job hunting in the digital age is essentially throwing a message in a bottle into a sea made entirely of messages in bottles, adding a link to a podcast or interview might make my bottle a little more interesting or memorable, and hopefully worth fishing out of the internet.

So yes, I have been sending emails to everyone I know who might consider speaking to me in some recorded format. Maybe you’ve heard from me recently, in fact. Hi. But in my self-promotional rampage, I was struck by one response I received from the host of a YouTube talk show. In a polite refusal, the host said he would rather not have a conversation on ‘global warming’, as he called it, on his show because he didn’t know very much about it and wouldn’t know where to begin in asking questions. Again, he was incredibly kind and polite in declining to speak to me, but I disagree with his reasoning for saying no and would like to pick apart his choice of words in how he talked about our climate. We’ll start with the term ‘global warming’.

‘Global Warming’ and ‘Climate Change’ have been used somewhat interchangeably to discuss our warming planet and the associated side-effects of that warming. However, among scholars and experts, ‘global warming’ has fallen out of fashion because of a few major problems in the term overall that invite skepticism, complacency, and an understatement of the scope of the problem that is climate change.

To dig into the problems of ‘global warming’ in no particular order, a major one is that global warming does not sound inherently terrible. The world is getting warmer. The term invites the idea of the planet having a thermostat somewhere, which we are somehow turning up a bit, to make the planet warmer. It doesn’t sound all that bad. It invites you to look at the rise of Earth’s temperatures as an isolated problem, and makes the problem of our warming planet seem underwhelming. Currently, surface temperatures across the planet, on land and sea, are about 1.2 ˚C warmer than they were in pre-industrial times. We are hoping to limit warming at 2.0 ˚C. Ideally 1.5 ˚C. That does not sound like a lot. Global warming of a degree and or two across the planet means that it’s just a degree or two warmer everywhere, all the time? Right? No, but we’ll get to that shortly. But looking at ‘global warming’ without considering associated changes to the planet makes it easy to be complacent, as ‘global warming’ can narrowly consider just changes in temperature, between a fraction of a degree or a degree or two this century, which doesn’t sound all that bad when you just hear the most basic numbers.

As bad as the above problem with ‘global warming’ is, the next problem, skepticism, is worse. If we are in the midst of global warming, why is it snowing in April? Why was Texas hit by a horrible winter storm in 2021? Why are we continually seeing ‘polar vortex‘ storms that bring about vicious cold snaps, if we are living in an era of global warming? For anyone who benefits from downplaying climate change, it is very easy to argue that the whipsaws in weather we are seeing with extreme cold in the winter and extreme heat in the winter disprove any notion that we are struggling with global warming. Instead, things just seem to be getting weirder. Not necessarily or consistently warmer. So that can be seen as a black mark against ‘global warming’ if you look at it through a very narrow perspective.

So, if ‘global warming’ can be understood as an inconsistent rise in temperatures of a degree or two, spaced out by winter storms that seem to cast doubt over the whole thing, is it a good term to use? Is ‘global warming’ worth discussing at any length?

Yes, but not using that term for our climate problem. This is where ‘climate change’ comes in as our new, improved term that paints a more complex picture of everything. So we should switch gears and talk about the warming the planet is experiencing in the context of climate change. While global temperatures are increasing, there is no doubt about that, there are a slew of side-effects of a warming planet that will have profound impacts on how and where people can live on this planet, how we travel, and the materials we use. So, let’s talk about climate change. Which I think can be understood as things getting weirder, rather than uniformly hotter.

As noted under global warming, the temperature of the planet is increasing. However, this warming is causing a variety of changes to and feedbacks for regional climates all over the world. Because this is not an evenly-distributed blanket warming of 1.2 ˚C all over the world. It is incorrect to think of this warming as just slightly higher temperatures everywhere. 1.2 ˚C is the global average, the distribution is far more wild and uneven. To put 1.2 ˚C warming in perspective, the average surface temperature of the Earth is 14°C at time of writing. However, there is enormous variety of temperatures all over the Earth. Is it 14°C where you are right now? Probably not. Global averages are not very useful considering how gigantic and varied the Earth is and how profoundly different the impacts of global warming/climate change are in different regions of the Earth.

As the planet continues to warm, some places will experience a much greater temperature increase than others, and this warming comes with a wide variety of side-effects. Changing temperatures means changing amounts of rainfall. Generally, dry areas will become drier and wet places become wetter. Where and when rainfall does happen, it will concentrated into less frequent but more severe storms. The Arctic, which is one of the regions warming way faster than the rest of the world, is projected to lose a lot of sea ice in most climate change scenarios for this century, along with Greenland and Antarctica, which will contribute to rising sea-levels. But, a warming ocean also means thermal expansion of water, warmer water is less dense than cold water, which will increase the volume of the oceans. The changing volume and temperature of the oceans also leads to other problems, like declining ocean currents, changing wind patterns, the health of the ecosystems within the ocean. None of these problems are incapsulated in the term ‘global warming’ but they are part of a changing climate. Hence why climate change is the preferred term. It is more vague, yes, but there is quite a lot more to unpack from its vagueness. So, I will continue talking about climate change so we can dig into the details and side-effects to get a fuller picture of our changing world.

To return to the beginning, I began writing this… content because a YouTube talk show host declined to speak to me because he didn’t know much about climate change, which he called ‘global warming’. And the thing is, I actually thought that his lack of knowledge about climate change was the perfect reason for he and I to have a chat. While I don’t have a PhD in Climate Change, I’m not expert with decades of experience who can dive into the exact information on minute details, I can communicate well. I have a very good understanding of climate change generally. That’s something some experts lack I think I could explain climate change quite well to people who don’t understand it. If the host of the YouTube show had been willing to talk to me, we could have started with his very first questions, at the very beginning, which might very well be the questions other people have. So I set out here to answer some of these first questions, ones that I had when I first started learning about climate change. That is what I hope to do with this webpage/newsletter/blog. I would like to clearly explain what climate change is, clear up a few misconceptions in plain English, and move the discussion on climate change forward.

So. Let’s keep going forward.

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