Wait, Is it “Global Warming” or “Climate Change”?

It is increasingly popular in the climate-change denier crowd to express contempt for this issue merely because of the shift in terms used to describe it. The extreme amplification of planet Earth’s greenhouse effect due to human-caused pollution and destruction of natural carbon-sinks (think deforestation and ocean acidification) was first termed “Global Warming” because of the most obvious and easily trackable symptom of the problem (slow and intermittent increases of the globe’s surface temperatures year over year). However, as we have learned more about the problem and as more evidence has highlighted the vast network of problems that a haywire greenhouse effect causes, it has become clear that global “warming” is but one symptom among a host of issues. For example, some parts of the planet have witnessed not just wonky, out-of-norm high temperatures, but also significant changes in precipitation. Similarly, some formerly arid regions are getting more rain, while previous wetlands and areas that have received moderate amounts of rain and snowfall are experiencing prolonged droughts. Still other areas have  gotten cooler, although they are in the minority. As such, the conversation has gravitated more towards using the phrase “Climate Change” as this is a more accurate and fuller description of the big-picture problems connected to the issue of elevated (and increasing) greenhouse gasses in our atmosphere. To be clear, global warming is a symptom; climate change is the disease.

Those who intend to cast doubt on the problem of climate change just because the terms used to describe it have become more nuanced have missed the mark completely. To be blunt, mocking the subtle shift in terms (from Global Warming to Climate Change) only highlights the unfamiliarity of the one levying the criticism. I hate to use the word “ignorance,” but there is just not a nicer way to say it. To be fair however, much of the general public who have come to accept science and the overwhelming evidence of climate change often use the terms interchangeably. Surely this adds to the confusion or at least inspires contempt in the mind of the skeptic. Nevertheless, “global warming” remains appropriate when describing one of the symptoms of climate change, so continuing to use the phrase may still be best in a given situation. In either case, and in any field from biology to sociology, the more we understand a topic, how it works and its related causes and effects, the more precise our language becomes. There is nothing suspicious or shady about the term “climate change.”

Allow me a parallel that may help make the point. In December of 1991, the U.S. Dept. of Commerce changed the terminology used to describe economic production within the United States. Some of you may even remember this: They changed the phrase/letters from “Gross National Product” (GNP) to “Gross Domestic Product” (GDP). This change was incorporated to account for the growing difference in income from foreign sources of U.S. companies. Stated another way, GNP measures the value of goods and services produced by U.S. nationals wherever they may be, while GDP only measures the value of goods and services produced within the boundaries of the United States. For example, all the income received by a U.S. company like Exxon in Nigeria would be counted in GNP. GDP, however, would only include income from oil related services operated within the U.S. and its territories, while excluding the income received from Nigerian operations. The switch from GNP to GDP was justified on the basis of what the figure had actually come to represent versus what it was supposed to represent. There is no problem here whatsoever.

And yet, if we take a page out of the climate change denier’s script, we might be tempted to believe (and argue) that both the terms “GNP” and “GDP” were ridiculous and economic doublespeak invented to deceive the gullible for no reason other than the shift in terminology itself. This is an argument that ought not be made. It fails to understand the issues, much less offer a valid criticism of them. The same can be said of those who scoff at the addition of the phrase “climate change” to the vocabulary of climate science, atmospheric pollution, planetary degradation and one symptom called “global warming.”

So the question remains: Is it Global Warming or Climate Change? Unfortunately, the answer is, “Yes.”


Thanks for reading me.

-C. Lambeth


About C_Lambeth

I currently live in the Pacific Northwest. I graduated from Missouri State University with a Bachelor's of Science and from George Fox Seminary (now Portland Seminary) with a Master's of Divinity. In addition to knowing Christ and helping others know him, I am passionate about peace, the environment, Christian feminism, justice for all (not just the wealthy) and being a lifelong learner. Please feel free to comment on any of the posts here or to suggest new posts altogether. Thank you for reading me! -CL
This entry was posted in Environment, Other Topics, Politics. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Wait, Is it “Global Warming” or “Climate Change”?

  1. C_L says:

    Readers might also find this link helpful. It’s a blogpost from a fellow seminarian I know and respect from George Fox.


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