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Climate Change vs. Global Warming: Which Do Scientists Prefer?

Climate Change vs. Global Warming: Which Do Scientists Prefer?
Calved icebergs from the nearby Twin Glaciers are seen floating on the water on July 30, 2013 in Qaqortoq, Greenland. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

By    |   Sunday, 16 November 2014 12:59 PM

In choosing between the terms “climate change” vs. “global warming,” scientists tend to prefer the former.

While people often use the terms interchangeably, they mean different things. NASA says global warming refers specifically to the increase the Earth has seen in its average surface temperatures due to rising levels of greenhouse gases, while climate change is a long-term change of the climate of the Earth or one of its regions.

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Scientists generally tend to choose to use the term climate change because that encompasses effects other than warming, such as variances in rainfall patterns, melting glaciers, and rising sea levels.

But not all scientists prefer climate change. Climatologist Judith Curry, a climate change believer, is critical of the term.

Curry wrote on her website that from a scientific standpoint, “If you are going to talk about ‘climate change’, you need some reference time scale, and some amplitude of change to consider. This time scale is nominally taken to be 30 years.”

She indicated she didn’t think there was a scientific justification for using that period. She suggested instead using the terms "anthropogenic global warming" and "climate variability."

White House science adviser John Holdren recommended in 2010 that people replace “climate change” with the far less catchy phrase "global climate disruption."

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Holden also said he feared the phrase “global warming” oversimplifies the problem and makes it sound less dangerous than it really is.

Yale researchers suggested scientists rethink their stance on the use of the catchier phrase "global warming" after conducting a nationally representative study released in May 2014. Researchers found that those surveyed responded significantly more strongly to "global warming" than "climate change."

Yale researchers released a statement that said, "Scientists often prefer the term climate change for technical reasons, but should be aware that the two terms generate different interpretations among the general public.”

However, scientists have at times shown a willingness to swap the terms "climate change" and "global warming" back and forth.

"Scientists tend to prefer using climate change because it encompasses non-heat-related results such as ocean acidification and increases in heavy rain events," said Suzanne Shaw, director of communications for the non-partisan group Union of Concerned Scientists, NBC News reported. "However, for public audiences, global warming seems to be better understood as the phenomenon we are experiencing so we tend to use them interchangeably, and it doesn't seem to confuse people."

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In choosing between the terms "climate change" vs. "global warming," scientists tend to prefer the former.
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Sunday, 16 November 2014 12:59 PM
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