What’s the difference between climate change and global warming?
Global temperature rise from 1880 to 2015. Higher-than-normal temperatures are shown in red and lower-than-normal temperatures are shown in blue. Each frame represents global temperature anomalies (changes) averaged over the five years previous to that particular year. Credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center/NASA Scientific Visualization Studio/NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies.
“Global warming” refers to the long-term warming of the planet. Global temperature shows a well-documented rise since the early 20th century and most notably since the late 1970s. Worldwide, since 1880 the average surface temperature has gone up by about 0.8 °C (1.4 °F), relative to the mid-20th-century baseline (of 1951-1980).
“Climate change” encompasses global warming, but refers to the broader range of changes that are happening to our planet. These include rising sea levels, shrinking mountain glaciers, accelerating ice melt in Greenland, Antarctica and the Arctic, and shifts in flower/plant blooming times. These are all consequences of the warming, which is caused mainly by people burning fossil fuels and putting out heat-trapping gases into the air. The terms “global warming” and “climate change” are sometimes used interchangeably, but strictly they refer to slightly different things.
What’s the difference between weather and climate?
Some people say “weather is what you get” and “climate is what you expect.” “Weather” refers to the more local changes in the climate we see around us, on short timescales from minutes to hours to days to weeks. Examples are familiar – rain, snow, clouds, winds, thunderstorms, heat waves and floods. “Climate” refers to longer-term averages (they may be regional or global), and can be thought of as the weather averaged over several seasons, years or decades. Climate change is harder for us to get a sense of because the timescales involved are much longer, and the impact of climate changes can be less immediate. Examples of climate change include several drier-than-normal summers, a trend of, say, winters becoming milder from our grandparents’ childhood to our own, or variations in effects like El Niño or La Niña.
Is the sun causing global warming?
Is it too late to prevent climate change?
Is the ozone hole causing climate change?
Do scientists agree on climate change?
Consensus: 97% of climate scientists agree
“The scientific consensus on climate change,” N. Oreskes, Science, Vol. 306 no. 5702, p. 1686, doi: 10.1126/science.1103618 (2004).
“Quantifying the consensus on anthropogenic global warming in the scientific literature,” J. Cook et al., Environ. Res. Lett., 8 024024, doi:10.1088/1748-9326/8/2/024024 (2013).
Yes, the vast majority of actively publishing climate scientists – 97 percent – agree that humans are causing global warming and climate change. Most of the leading science organizations around the world have issued public statements expressing this, including international and U.S. science academies, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and a whole host of reputable scientific bodies around the world). The number of peer-reviewed scientific papers that reject the consensus on human-caused global warming is a vanishingly small proportion of the published research. The small amount of dissent tends to come from a few vocal scientists who are not experts in the climate field or do not understand the scientific basis of long-term climate processes.
What’s NASA got to do with climate change?
When people think of NASA, they think of rovers on Mars, astronauts floating aboard the International Space Station, or probes veering out to the edge of the solar system. They don’t necessarily link NASA with climate research and observations. But Earth is a planet too, and NASA is one of the biggest players in the Earth science arena, with broad expertise on observing our climate, especially from the vantage point of space. Today it spends over a billion dollars a year doing Earth science and has more than a dozen satellites in orbit around the planet watching the oceans, land, ice, atmosphere and biosphere.
In the 1970s, NASA’s planetary exploration budget fell dramatically. It was then that the agency really got into the business of studying our home planet from orbit. It was also a time when people were beginning to realize that our climate could change relatively fast, on the scale of the human lifespan. Today, we know that our climate is changing at an unprecedented rate and that humans are a key part of that change. NASA continues to launch new satellite missions, and is also relying on aircraft (manned and unmanned), as well as scientists on the ground, to take vital measurements of things like snowpack and hurricanes, augmenting the big-picture view we get from space.
NASA’s role is to make observations of our climate that can be used by the public, policymakers and to support strategic decisions. Its job is to do rigorous science. However, the agency does not promote particular climate policies.
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