Global Warming vs. Climate Change

Globe in hand on fire“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).

car covered under snow“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.

Take a look at this video representation of the global temperature rise from 1880 to 2013. 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, so for example the final frame represents global temperature anomalies averaged from 2009 to 2013.

Credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center/NASA Scientific Visualization Studio/NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies.