Are climate change and global warming the same thing?
-Maria T., Dayton, OH
The terms are sometimes used interchangeably, but climate change and global warming are not the same thing. However, they are related.
As defined by the U.S. EPA, climate change is where significant changes in climate occur over an extended period of time. Climate, in the meteorological sense, is itself defined by long-term measurements of weather. In contrast, weather describes atmospheric conditions over a short period of time. One day in southern Nevada might happen to be rainy, but weather measurements over the past few decades would reveal that southern Nevada’s climate is generally dry and hot. One day, week, month, or even one year of unusual (defined as a departure from the average) weather does not define a climate. But with enough time and enough departures from the average, what is “average” begins to change. Long-term trends can suggest that a climate is changing.
Global warming is where the earth’s surface temperatures are, on average, rising. Global warming is one facet of climate change, as well as a cause or companion of other climate change phenomena. Like climate change, global warming is defined by long-term trends recognized from years of weather measurements. One hotter- or colder-than-average year does not prove or disprove global warming or climate change.