What is Climate Change?

Between these two terms, “climate change” is the broader one.  

NASA explains, “‘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 warming, which is caused mainly by people burning fossil fuels and putting out heat-trapping gases into the air.”

So, global warming is an aspect of climate change, but it is also its cause.

What is Global Warming?

global warming definition

NASA also provides us with a succinct explanation of global warming. The agency writes, “’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 risen about 1 °C (about 2 °F), relative to the mid-20th-century baseline (of 1951-1980). This is on top of about an additional 0.15 °C of warming from between 1750 and 1880.”

As mentioned previously, global warming is a human-created phenomenon. By filling our atmosphere with industrial gases that trap heat, we are causing what is known as the “greenhouse effect.”

In actuality, the greenhouse effect has always been part of our planet’s environment, and a crucial one at that, since it prevents too much heat from escaping into space.

But that effect was in balance before we started releasing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. The right amount of heat was trapped to sustain life.

Now, we are trapping too much heat, causing a rapid and catastrophic rise in global temperatures. Global warming will render the world uninhabitable if left unchecked. And it is happening faster than many people imagine.

How Will Climate Change and Global Warming Affect Us?        

Global warming and climate change are already having devastating effects on the world around us. Heat domes, flooding, and other catastrophic climate events are becoming more frequent around the globe.

But the exact effects of global warming and climate change over the remainder of this century will depend on our choices.

Rising Temperatures

The Exploratorium explains what we can expect based on those choices.

Here is their chart:

Scenario nameAssumes we reduce CO2 emissions…Predicted temperature increase by 2100Predicted sea level rise by 2100
RCP 2.6Very quickly1.8˚F (1˚C)17 inches (0.44 m)
RCP 4.5Somewhat quickly3.2˚F (1.8˚C)21 inches (0.53 m)
RCP 6.0More slowly4.3˚F (2.4˚C)22 inches (0.55 m)
RCP 8.5Hardly at all7.4˚F (4.1˚C)29 inches (0.74 m)

Imagine for a moment what it would be like if the location where you live were to become 7.4 degrees Fahrenheit hotter on average! If you are used to 95 degree days in the summer, you can replace those with 102.4 degree days.

That would be bad enough, but that does not really capture the full effects of climate change and global warming.

Did you know that in the 1980s, it was typical for there to be about four days a year featuring extreme heat?

By the year 2100, that number could jump to as high as forty days.

Other Climate Change Effects

We also are going to see changes in humidity. Some places will become dry, leading to droughts, wildfires, and famine. Others will get more humid.

When humidity rises sufficiently high, even temperatures in the 90s can be deadly within hours. When the air is saturated, our sweat cannot evaporate to cool us off.

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These changes along with rising sea levels (as much as 8 feet by 2100) will force mass migrations that will impact millions of people.

Believe it or not, by the middle of our century, the Arctic Ocean may thaw entirely each summer.

Then there is the danger of severe weather systems. Category 4 and 5 hurricanes are already occurring more frequently than they did decades in the past. They will continue to increase in frequency going forward.

New Diseases

WebMD says, “It’s a link few might have considered, but a new study indicates that climate change may have prompted the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Elaborating, WebMD states, “Rising temperatures caused by greenhouse emissions have boosted the growth of bat-friendly forest habitat in China’s southern province of Yunnan and neighboring areas, making the region a hotspot for bat-borne coronaviruses, the researchers explained. Genetic data suggest the new coronavirus may have arisen in this region.”

Regardless of whether the theory is correct, it makes sufficient sense to point towards the possibility of additional pandemics in the future relating to climate change.

What Happens After 2100?

Most conversations about climate change focus on what we can expect over the course of the remainder of the century. That is because this is a timeframe that many of us find easy to picture. In fact, you might experience decades of that timeframe, depending on your age and other factors.

Climate change isn’t going to simply stop after 2100. In fact, if we have not taken swift action to rein it in, things will get much worse.

United Nations University writes, “even though the majority of C02 emitted from burning a single tonne of coal or oil today will be absorbed over a few centuries by the oceans and vegetation, approximately 25% of it will still be lingering in the atmosphere in 1,000 years, and 10% still remaining and impacting the climate in 100,000 years time.”

The site also quotes a report called the Copenhagen Diagnosis by some of the top climate scientists in the world as saying, “even a thousand years after reaching a zero-emission society, temperatures will remain elevated, likely cooling down by only a few tenths of a degree below their peak values.”

The same page adds, “The carbon that we are releasing into the atmosphere today is in the process of ‘programming’ a potential 2-5 metres of sea level rise by around the year 2300.”

The Tipping Point is Here

As explained here, a 1.5°C rise in average global temperatures from pre-industrial levels would be devastating to our planet and our species.

This is now considered a crucial tipping point. If we pass that tipping point, millions more people will be affected by catastrophic climate change than would be if we do not reach the 1.5 degree rise.

How soon is this tipping point coming up? At our present rate, we can expect to reach it between the years 2030 and 2052.

Moreover, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) states that within the next five years, we may reach the tipping point transiently on and off. When we do, the effects will be devastating.

What Can You Do to Fight Climate Change?

As scary as all of this may sound, it is critical that we keep in mind that we are not helpless to stop global warming and climate change. With our collective fates in the balance, every single one of us can do our part to protect our present and our future.

Some things you can do today to fight climate change include:

  • Educate yourself and other people in your life about the science of climate change.
  • Support politicians that will take swift and decisive action to stop global warming.
  • Use energy efficient technology whenever possible.
  • Shop for local products when you can, and choose slower shipping when you can’t.
  • Do not use your water heater unless you have to (i.e. to shower).
  • Do not waste food.
  • Do not use a disposable product when a reusable option is available.
  • Start a garden, and get composting.

We Can Take Action Now to Save Our Planet

Now you know the differences between global warming vs. climate change. Climate change is the result of global warming, but temperatures heating up are just one example of the catastrophic ways in which our modern lifestyles are transforming our environment.

But you also know now that there is hope so long as all of us stand together to aggressively stop global warming. The time to act is now. Doing so will save millions of lives and ensure a safe, habitable planet for future generations.