October 21, 2021

Global warming – Climate change – Weather extremes

Words matter. Nowhere can it be seen better than when using “climate change” instead of “global warming”, and now the US Government wants to use “weather extremes” instead of “climate change”.

Hurricane Harvey, which became Tropical Storm Harvey, has flooded huge areas of southeastern Texas. Unfortunately, the increasing water temperature in the Gulf of Mexico causes hurricanes and tropical storms to become stronger and more frequent. Higher water temperatures also feed the storm with more water over the sea. This falls as rain over land with increasingly severe floods.

Calling this a “weather extreme” blindfolds stakeholders in two ways.

Weather versus climate: Calling a spade a spade

Weather is local and short-term, climate is global and long-term.

Calling weather what needs to be described as climate robs people of information. It takes away the awareness that the atmosphere as a dynamic system. Climate can be observed in the long-term, regionally or even globally. Climate can be described by parameters like average of temperature, humidity and rainfall patterns over seasons, years or decades. Climate can be modelled and simulated, and predictions can be derived.

Ignoring climate and limiting oneself to weather, restricts someone’s horizon to the next weather forecast at best.

Wrong or lack of information causes wrong decisions. Obvious choices are not made due to self-imposed amateurism.

Focus on weather also favors passivity and inaction. Weather happens; it cannot be influenced, so why should someone look any further?

Global warming versus climate change

Based on the NASA web site, “Global warming refers to the upward temperature trend across the entire Earth since the early 20th century, and most notably since the late 1970s, due to the increase in fossil fuel emissions since the industrial revolution. 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 refers to a broad range of global phenomena created predominantly by burning fossil fuels, which add heat-trapping gases to Earth’s atmosphere. These phenomena include the increased temperature trends described by global warming, but also encompass changes such as sea level rise; ice mass loss in Greenland, Antarctica, the Arctic and mountain glaciers worldwide; shifts in flower/plant blooming; and extreme weather events.”

Using the term “climate change” instead of “global warming” puts the emphasis on climate and potentially also enlarges the focus onto other topics beyond increasing temperature levels.

However, “global warming” is the dominating factor for melting ice around the poles and up mountains, the rising sea level, and the migration of flora and fauna into new geographic zones, so that the question arises if we should not use “global warming” more prominently in our discussion about the future of our planet.

Global warming causes climate change.

Climate change causes weather extremes.