What is the Difference Between Climate Change and Global Warming?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Climate change and global warming both spend a lot of time in the news, and it is important to distinguish between these two related concepts. Put simply, “climate change” refers to long term shifts in the Earth's climate in which the climate differs radically from the expected norm. “Global warming” is a type of climate change, and the term is usually used specifically to refer to the climate change which began to occur in the 20th century. Both climate change and global warming are topics of interest to scientists, paleontologists, and ecologists.

Some forms of asthma medicine have been discontinued due to the CFCs released by the inhalers, which may negatively impact the Earth's atmosphere.
Some forms of asthma medicine have been discontinued due to the CFCs released by the inhalers, which may negatively impact the Earth's atmosphere.

A number of factors can influence the Earth's climate, causing climate change and global warming, ranging from volcanic eruptions to pollution created by humans. Using archaeological and paleontological evidence, scientists have documented numerous instances of climate change in the Earth's past, and they have examined how, why, and when these changes occurred, using a number of indicators to track these events.

Glaciation is a major indicator of climate change. When the planet experiences cooling, glaciation increases, as it did during the ice ages. With warming trends come a corresponding decrease in glaciation. Dissolved gases in the atmosphere, pollen levels, and rainfall patterns can also provide clues. Estimates about historical shifts in temperature and climate can be arrived at by using evidence such as ice cores along with contemporary reports, such as discussions of unusually warm winters or difficult growing seasons.

The Earth has been experiencing climate change since it was created, and it is clearly a natural process, as demonstrated by the long term trends which have been documented by scientists. Global warming has become an issue because the warming trend appears to be drastically accelerated and more severe than previous documented periods of warming. Some researchers have suggested that human activities have played a role in the global warming trend, and that it may be necessary to modify the human lifestyle in order to prevent additional damage.

The issues of climate change and global warming are both important. Changes in the Earth's climate historically may explain patterns of extinction in some animals, along with human migration patterns and historical events such as famines and plagues. Small variations in temperature, rainfall, and other climactic factors can have a huge impact, as research on climate change and global warming has shown. The difference of only a few degrees can cause serious problems, which is an issue of particular concern in an overcrowded world where shortages of food and decreases in available land could trigger major sociological issues.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


Lightning causes ozone (breaks the O2 bond). I just read an interesting fact, that lightning strikes the earth 8 million times a day. We humans have been on this earth a comparatively small amount of time. Of that time, a much smaller amount has been spent collecting data on weather elements. Wouldn't these facts, along with numerous other counter climate intelligence facts, tend to lead us to an anthropomorphic (human centered) view of "global warming"?


I think environmental lobbyists intentionally use "global warming" in place of "climate change" sometimes to garner support.


@fBoyle-- Global warming definitely exists and it is taking place right now.

The difference between global warming and climate change can be confusing. The main difference is that climate change is natural and often times temporary whereas global warming is human induced and the consequences may be permanent.


Global warming is a very drastic climate change that can have dangerous consequences in terms of natural disasters. At least this is what we have been told by scientists.

I personally think that global warming, if it does exist, is exaggerated. When the term first came out, people were saying that the world was warming up. This would cause the glaciers to melt and flooding. Around that time, temperatures especially in the summer were higher than normal so everyone believed that global warming had arrived.

A few years later though, people noticed that temperature extremes were not only being experienced in the summer, but also in the winter. I think what we were told was global warming then, was just natural climate change.

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