There is Confusion on What is Meant Regarding the Terms “Global Warming” and “Climate Change”

In the February 16, 2006 New York Times, there is an article by Andy Revkin that states,

“In a more recent example of possible political pressure at the agency, press officers and scientists cited an e-mail message sent last July from NASA’s headquarters to its Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. It said a Web presentation describing the uncontroversial finding that Earth was a “warming planet” could not use the phrase “global warming.” It is “standard practice,” the message went on, to use the phrase “climate change.'”

The weblog Prometheus discusses this news release today.

I want to add to this discussion by posting a perspective of the use of the two terms “global warming” and “climate change” that was in response to a question from Andy Revkin in August 2005. My answer with respect to where global warming fits within the concept of climate change is posted below;

“On Climate Change

To add even more complication, global warming is only one component of climate change. As discussed in our July 28th blog (What is the Importance to Climate of Heterogeneous Spatial Trends in Tropospheric Temperatures?), it is the alteration of atmospheric and ocean circulations as a result of the diversity of climate forcings which have a larger impact on the climate that we experience, than can be described by the metric of the total climate system heat change. The climate forcing of land-use/land-cover change is just one example of such a climate forcing. As shown in a a variety of papers (e.g., see Chase et al. 2000, 2001 ), there are large regional changes in weather patterns due to landscape change as simulated in the models with implications on whether a region warms or cools, and becomes wetter or drier over time. This occurs despite little global average heat changes associated with land-use/land-cover change, since areas of cooling balance with areas with warming. We can see the importance of atmospheric circulation changes in hurricane tracks. Whether the USA is pummeled by landfalling hurricanes such as Katrina or recurves offshore depends on the regional tropospheric wind field not a global average metric.

Thus we limit the communication to policymakers if we use climate change as a synonym for global warming. Global warming is just one aspect of a much more complicated environmental issue.”

We need to properly define our terms on a scientific basis to effectively communciate with policymakers. A key recognition that was made in the text written above is “global warming is only one component of climate change.”

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