Letter to the Editor

Climate change vs. global warming

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

A recent letter to the editor brought up excellent questions about climate change and global warming. The author asserted that "global warming" was renamed to "global climate change" because "when the climate did not heat fast enough ... any change in climate will provide proof we are in imminent danger."

As a science educator, I would like to point out the difference between "global warming" and "climate change." Global warming refers to the long term trend of the earth's increase in average surface temperature (1.9 degree Fahrenheit since the late 1800s), while climate change refers to changes in global climate systems as a result of the earth's increased surface temperature. The two terms are related and often used interchangeably, but they refer to two different physical phenomena and use of each term depends on the context. For example, the effects of global warming on the earth’s surface is causing the retreat of glaciers world wide, the loss of ice mass in polar regions and the warming of oceans. This, in turn, is changing climate systems by introducing more moisture and energy into the atmosphere and magnifying naturally occurring weather events such as drought, hurricanes and precipitation. Locally, data show global warming is changing Iowa climate with more extreme storms and precipitation events.

If nothing is done to reverse carbon emissions, the earth may not be habitable for human life - perhaps within a generation.

However, I am an optimist and a patriotic believer in American ingenuity, entrepreneurship and democracy.

From changes in our personal lifestyles to the development of more energy efficient buildings, appliances and technologies; to innovations in renewable energy and the harnessing of market forces to incentivize such changes (check out the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act recently introduced to Congress) I believe there is a path forward and exciting times ahead.

Remember, only a half century ago, few imagined we could put a man on the moon. 


Jane Shuttleworth