Is it Global Warming or Climate Change?

Is it more appropriate to use the term “global warming” or “climate change”?

Of course, like anything, it’s complicated. For a bit of history lesson on the terms there is a great post on the NASA Global Climate Chage blog.

To break their very detailed explanation down a little:

1970: referred to as “inadvertent climate modification.”

UPDATE: an astute reader just pointed out that the term “global warming” was actually used first in a 1973 movie called Soylent Green.

1975: the first reference to the term “global warming.” A 1975 article by by geochemist Wallace Broecker appeared in the journal Science titled: “Climatic Change: Are We on the Brink of a Pronounced Global Warming?”

1979: a National Academy of Science study abandons the use of the term “inadvertent climate modification.”

1980’s: the term “global change” began to be used. 

1988: “global warming” is popularized by NASA scientist Dr. James Hansen. According to NASA, it was the highly publicized Congressional testimony of Dr. James Hansen in 1988 in which he stated that, “”global warming has reached a level such that we can ascribe with a high degree of confidence a cause and effect relationship between the greenhouse effect and the observed warming,” that saw the term “global warming” become a popular reference in the mainstream media.

Today most scientists use the term “global warming” when referring to surface temperature increases, while “climate change” is is used when referring to everything else that contrinutes to the increases in greenhouse gas emissions and all other effects.

So there you go.

While these are the technical uses of the terms there is an argument made that “global warming” should be used instead of “climate change” when writing in the popular media, especially online. This is because the term “global warming” is searched out on Google millions times more a month than the term “climate change.” The argument goes, if you want to increase the number of people reading your material you should use the lexicon that will most increase your chances of appearing in the search engines.

For example, here’s a screenshot from Google trends showing the search volume for the term “global warming” compared to “climate change” since 2003:


(Click to enlarge)

So the question is: When writing or commenting online do you use the technically correct term or the one that will likely garner you the most visits? Ask a public opinion researcher and they’ll say use “global warming” all the time. Ask a scientist or policy wonk and they’ll no doubt recommend the appropriate technical use.

I tend towards using the term global warming. But I am torn between being technically correct and getting the most eye-balls on a story.

So what do you think the answer is?

This month we’re giving away FREE copies Coming Clean: Breaking America’s Addiction to Oil and Coal.

Go here to find out more details about DeSmogBlog’s monthly book give-away.



That’s exactly how I use them. A similar echo would be “global warming is what we’re doing to the earth, climate change is what the Earth’s doing back to us as a result”.

I also like to point folks toward the Luntz memo, which shows a deliberate conservative decision to switch from “global warming” to “climate change” as the term of use. Seems the whole “alarmists had to switch to climate change” argument is a bit of a projection.

I prefer to use that term for two reasons. Firstly many peole do not understand that a 1 or 2 degree increase in the earth’s temperature is a real problem. And secondly they think that every time we get a cold snap that somehow that “proves” all the scientists are wrong. 

My vote is for “climate destabilization”, but I guess that doesn’t have the same ring to it.

> I tend towards using the term global warming. But I am torn between being technically correct and getting the most eye-balls on a story.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a “progressive” speak so openly about this. Make up phony language, in order to get attention. Tell the truth – i.e., the climate changes as it always has and always will – and you won’t be able to scare the shit out of everybody, because the truth just isn’t that scary, and nobody will care.

Thank you!

Although I use both global warming and climate change, my favorite term is Climaticide. I use it whenever I wish to convey a value judgement about global warming or climate change. Climaticide is not a scientific expression, it is a political one designed to frame the discussion on our terms.

Of course it is very unlikely that we will kill all climate. (We should all be gone before that happens.) But we are busily engaged in killing off the climate that has nurtured and sustained our civilization during its brief period of dominance, the Holocene, so I think the term is appropriate.

Here is a post on the topic from my blog Climaticide Chronicles.

Why Call It “Climaticide”? The Power of True Names.


The term climate change, if used can be carried over to cover the expected cooling over the next few years. Warming would be a hard sell.

“Hard sell”? The earth doesn’t care about PR. If the earth’s warming, then it’s warming. It may be “Marxist”, it may be “fascist”, may be “anti-American”, but it’s the earth.

You don’t “sell” anything to the earth.


Ah…but the global warming movement cares about PR and they are now in trouble with their message….because the climate is not cooperating with the predictions.


the global warming movement cares about PR

How about saying outright “Global warming is a conspiracy by Marxists and solar power tycoons and Freemasons!” instead of making vague insinuations? But you don’t have the courage to simply say it, do you?

I think you are the one who cares more about PR.


I don’t believe any of that conspiracy crap. People are just beginning to understand the many influences on the climate. It’s like trying to reconstruct a symphony from the last note and a few echos. AGW concepts will probably be viewed by history as an honest mistake.

I guess you haven’t been following the trail that began in the late 19th century, when scientists began to make the connection between the industrial output of CO2 with the potential for a greenhouse effect.  This isn’t recent, or even controversial.  We’ve known the science for a very long time.  It wasn’t until the oil industry caught on that things got dicey.  Strip away all of the denial hysteria and you will find an underlying core of solid science that leads inevitably to the conclusion that churning megatonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere at an exponential rate over centuries (ie, since the mid-1700s, the beginning of the Industrial Revolution) WILL HAVE AN EFFECT ON THE COMPOSITION OF THE ATMOSPHERE SUFFICIENT TO RAISE SURFACE TEMPERATURES

Just because the two graphs show a rise over the same time period doesn’t mean one causes the other.

I’ll just bide my time.

You haven’t done much reading on the effects of carbon dioxide, have you?

If you had done so you will have found that the physics of IR absorption by carbon dioxide results in warming. The amount of warming for a particular concentration of CO2 can be calculated (note: no computer modelling involved at all) and the heating corresponds to what is actually found. This is how real science works, not the clutching at straws that the AGW deniers use.

Just sit back & watch the temps drop. CO2’s effects are miniscule compared to the varying performance of our heat source.

No sense arguing….the climate will cool and the AGW theory will pass into history.

For someone who claims that “People are just beginning to understand the many influences on the climate”, you sure seem entirely confident of your own predictions.

So which is it? “We” don’t know what the climate will be like, or “we” know the earth will be cooling?

What bollocks.


Gotta wait and see, depends mostly on solar activity. Dropping temps (as they have been) will require a continuation of the current solar funk. Not some trace gas…. which is what percent of our atmosphere? 400/1000000

Gotta wait and see, depends mostly on solar activity.

So now it “depends”?

Are you therefore retracting your earlier, 100% confident, 100% unqualified prediction that “the climate will cool and the AGW theory will pass into history”?

Yes, or no?

You can’t have it both ways, you know.


I normally use “climate change” to refer to changes in climate in general – including prehistoric ones – and “global warming” or specifically “anthropogenic global warming” to refer to the specific changes in climate that’ve been happening in the near past. I guess this means my notion of “global warming” encompasses more things than what Kevin has described (i.e. that long-term upward trend we see in those pretty GISTEMP/HadCRUT/UAH/RSS graphs).


Read this press release from NASA and download a copy to your hard drive. The global warming people will have this censored for sure. Here is the link:

This is hard science and not a  bogus computer model like the “hockey stick.” This is totally unheard of and NASA admits they can’t explain it. This never happened before. 

Press Release Highlights:

“The average pressure of the solar wind has dropped more than 20% since the mid-1990s,”

“The change in pressure comes mainly from reductions in temperature and density. The solar wind is 13% cooler and 20% less dense.

13% COOLER !!!

“What we’re seeing is a long term trend, a steady decrease in pressure that began sometime in the mid-1990s,” explains Arik Posner, NASA’s Ulysses Program Scientist in Washington DC.

How unusual is this event?

“It’s hard to say. We’ve only been monitoring solar wind since the early years of the Space Age—from the early 60s to the present,” says Posner. “Over that period of time, it’s unique. How the event stands out over centuries or millennia, however, is anybody’s guess. We don’t have data going back that far.”

This explains all the new record low temperatures and the record snowfall. It’s getting colder and I’m not denying it.

This explains all the new record low temperatures and the record snowfall.

No it doesn’t, but it may explain why someone would write the idiotic rant above.

In the same NASA report:

“The solar wind isn’t inflating the heliosphere as much as it used to,” says McComas. “That means less shielding against cosmic rays.” […]

If the trend continues, astronauts on the Moon or en route to Mars would get a higher dose of space radiation. Robotic space probes and satellites in high Earth orbit face an increased risk of instrument malfunctions and reboots due to cosmic ray strikes.

You totally ignored the part of the press release that reveals the solar wind is 13% cooler.

So I guess if it was 100% cooler that would have no effect on Earth?

Since you are so smart why don’t you explain exactly how much cooler the solar output has to go before it gets cooler on earth. 50%? 75%?  

Or do you believe the sun has nothing to do with temperatures on earth? 



The temperature of the solar wind does not warm the earth. Measurements of actual radiation (that which actually warms the earth) has not shown much variation over the past 100 years and has in fact dropped a bit since 1950, during which time the earth has warmed considerably. When will you deniers realize that scientists are actually measuring these things and have found absolutely no correleation?

Keep it up you, are just showing how ill informed you deniers are.

The paper you cite is out of date on two counts.

Firstly, it only covered 72% of the Antarctic continent. Secondly, it used a rather out dated and not very accurate method for determining ice maas. The authors used satellite altimetry as the method for estimating ice mass. It is not as accurate as the newer gravity measurements used by the GRACE satellites.

Even so, a more recent paper by Shepherd and Wingham (2007) “Recent Sea-Level Contributions of the Antarctic and Greenland Ice Sheets” Science 315, 1529-1532 shows that the ice mass is in fact increasing.

The results from the GRACE satellite can be found here:

A results from a third group showing increased ice mass can be found here:
And we don’t hate the science stuff, it is the lies and misinformnation put out by the AGW deniers that we hate.