1. Question:

In the article, Global Warming vs. Climate Change is an example of the confusion regarding these terms.

What are the "official" definitions of "Climate Change" and "Global Warming"?

How does the IPCC - distinguish between "Global Warming" and "Climate Change"; or, are the terms interchangeable?

Clarification: To avoid "opinion" / "debate", I am just hoping for authoritative definitions. Specifically, I am hoping to clarify the different uses seen in objections raised within the science community, (Question Link).

2. Example Ambiguities:

  1. Global Warming - a relentless rise in temperature? Due to both natural and human contributors? Or exclusively to pollution? Associated with the relentless rise in Carbon Dioxide levels, or perhaps Chlorofluorocarbons, etc.

  2. Climate Change - A competing theory? A newer refinement of Global Warming Theory? Extreme, and unpredictable variability in climate--rather than a consistent, relentless increase in heat.

  3. Corollary Theories - Is Climate Change is a larger study, and Global warming falls within, or one causes the other, etc?

  • $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$
    – hichris123
    Commented Feb 25, 2016 at 1:14
  • $\begingroup$ Moderator note: this question originally had dozens of comments, was edited extensively, and is now significantly different. I have deleted the comments for the question to get a fresh start/reboot. $\endgroup$
    – gerrit
    Commented Jan 31, 2018 at 23:31
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I think it's important to point out that "global warming" is a direct consequence of the "greenhouse effect" which is necessary for life on Earth. Without the greenhouse effect the Earth would be too cold to support life as we know it. Climate (and climate change) is dependent on many factors, including the greenhouse effect. Typically you see "global warming" used more as a buzz phrase in media, referring to the recent trend in warming across the globe, which would not be occurring if it weren't for human influence on land and atmosphere. $\endgroup$
    – f.thorpe
    Commented Feb 1, 2018 at 12:05

2 Answers 2

  1. Is "Climate Change" a derived theory within "Global Warming", or vice versa?
  2. Is "Climate Change" a reiteration of an earlier theory, "Global Warming"?
  3. Are these terms in fact synonymous?

In order,

  1. Vice versa.
  2. No.
  3. No.

"Climate change" (and its kin, "climatic change") is a far older term than is "global warming." The terms "climate change" / "climatic change" are and always have been the dominant terms used in the scientific literature (over "global warming"). Anthropogenic global warming is but one aspect of anthropogenic climate change, which in turn is but one aspect of climate science. In particular, increased global warming (above natural) is one of the climatic consequences of humans dumping very large amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

Since climate change is the older concept, climate change cannot have derived from "global warming", and it is not a reiteration of an earlier theory.

Some references that show that "climate change" is an old term:

Ellsworth Huntington (1917), "Climatic change and agricultural exhaustion as elements in the fall of Rome," The Quarterly Journal of Economics (1917): 173-208.

Richard Joel Russell (1941), "Climatic change through the ages," Climate and Man, U.S. Department of Agriculture: 67.

Edmund Schulman (1956), "Dendroclimatic changes in semiarid America," University of Arizona Press, Tucson Arizona.

NASA - What's in a Name? Global Warming vs. Climate Change

There was a lot of discussion on this topic. That discussion may eventually vanish. The question ended up asking for references, lots and lots of references. I do not have the time or the inclination to do that. What I can do is supply links to sites that do supply those references:

David Appell, "Some Early and Important Works on Climate Science, Carbon Dioxide, and Human Influence."

American Institute of Physics, "Bibliography by year: The Discovery of Global Warming."

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, "Fifth Assessment Report."

  • $\begingroup$ Probably also worth noting that anthropogenic global warming is generally seen as a proximal cause of much of the climate change projected over the next centuries (that is, the parts of the expected climate change that are not thought to be due to Milankovich and solar cycles or general internal variability). $\endgroup$
    – naught101
    Commented Feb 23, 2016 at 23:32
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @elikakohen: you're packing a lot of stuff into a single question here. You will probably get better results if you split it up into separate follow-up questions. $\endgroup$
    – naught101
    Commented Feb 23, 2016 at 23:34
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ @elikakohen: Sure. But the quantity of text (and related sub-questions) makes it difficult for anyone to provide a comprehensive answer, because each sub question could have it's own dedicated answer, and no-one wants to sit here writing pages of content for little personal gain. Have a look at meta.stats.stackexchange.com/questions/1479/… for some tips how to get the most out of a Q&A site like this. $\endgroup$
    – naught101
    Commented Feb 23, 2016 at 23:43
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    $\begingroup$ You are reading too much into those references. Your original question started with three questions. I answered those, stating that climate change is an older concept. You asked for proof of that. I gave that, with references. Now you want us to write a book. Not just a book, a library. I'm not going to do that. A good question at this site is one whose answer is more than just a one-liner, but much, much less than a book. A good question is one that can be answered in a handful of paragraphs or so $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 24, 2016 at 1:38
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ They aren't separate theories. Climate change is a part of climate science (the Earth's climate has sometimes remained quite steady for hundreds of thousands of years), anthropogenic climate change is a part of climate change (that caused by mankind), anthropogenic global warming is a part of anthropogenic climate change. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 24, 2016 at 2:20

Note: As the OP, it's not quite fair to say this is "my" answer, but a synthesis of the many comments provided. -- Thank you.

Question Restatement:

Given the many representations of "Global Warming" and "Climate Change" - what are the "Official Definitions" being used in this debate?

  1. How these terms are used by the IPCC; and
  2. The senses of these terms used by skeptics -- especially in the written letters voicing concerns by other Scientists?
  3. Are people actually talking about different things? The same things?

Source: Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis (Used throughout.)

1. What is Anthropogenic Climate Change?

As the Original Poster, I had honestly never heard of "Anthropogenic". Understanding what this means clarified the terms, for me.

The context of the objections, and their usage of terms, was explicitly in the context of "policy" and "responses", specifically the significance of "human pollution", that is: Anthropogenic Climate Impact -

Paleoclimate Archives, Chapter 5, pg. 392 - Anthropogenic (human-produced) factors, on the other hand, include changes in the concentrations of greenhouse gases, and emissions of visible air pollution (aerosols) and other substances from human activities. ‘Internal variability’ refers to fluctuations within the climate system, for example, due to weather variability or phenomena like the El Niño-Southern Oscillation, (Chapter 5. pg. 392).

Statistical Use of "Anthropogenic": Google Books Ngram Viewer: 1970 - 2008 Statistical use of Anthropogenic, Climate Change, Global Warming, Greenhouse Effect, Greenhouse Gas."

2. Global Warming - A Discussion of Greenhouse Gasses and Radiative Forcing:

Although Global Warming can be used interchangeably with Climate Change, NASA 12.05.08, Global Warming is in reference to Radiative Forcing and the Greenhouse Effect:

Global Warming Potential (GWP), pg. 1455) - An index, based on radiative properties of greenhouse gases, measuring the radiative forcing following a pulse emission of a unit mass of a given greenhouse gas in the presentday atmosphere integrated over a chosen time horizon, relative to that of carbon dioxide.

Radiative forcing, (Glossary, pg. 1460) - Radiative forcing is the change in the net, downward minus upward, radiative flux (expressed in W m–2) at the tropopause or top of atmosphere due to a change in an external driver of climate change, such as, for example, a change in the concentration of carbon dioxide or the output of the Sun. Sometimes internal drivers are still treated as forcings even though they result from the alteration in climate, for example aerosol or greenhouse gas changes in paleoclimates. (See Chapter 8, Radiative Forcing.)

3. Climate Change - Persistent Change Caused by Internal Processes or External Forcings:

Climate change, (Glossary, pg. 1450) - Climate change refers to a change in the state of the climate that can be identified (e.g., by using statistical tests) by changes in the mean and/or the variability of its properties, and that persists for an extended period, typically decades or longer. Climate change may be due to natural internal processes or external forcings such as modulations of the solar cycles, volcanic eruptions and persistent anthropogenic changes in the composition of the atmosphere or in land use. ...

...Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), Article 1 - Climate change as ... ‘a change of climate which is attributed directly or indirectly to human activity that alters the composition of the global atmosphere and which is in addition to natural climate variability observed over comparable time periods’.

The UNFCCC thus makes a distinction between climate change attributable to human activities altering the atmospheric composition, and climate variability attributable to natural causes.

Abrupt Climate Change, Section, pg. 1114 - This report adopts the definition of abrupt climate change used in Synthesis and Assessment Product 3.4 of the U.S. Climate Change Science Program CCSP (CCSP, 2008b). We define abrupt climate change as a large-scale change in the climate system that takes place over a few decades or less, persists (or is anticipated to persist) for at least a few decades, and causes substantial disruptions in human and natural systems, (pg. 1448, etc.).

4. Relationship Between Global Warming and Radiative Forcing:

Global Warming is associated with the Greenhouse Effect and Radiative Forcing:

Drivers of Climate Change - Natural and anthropogenic substances and processes that alter the Earth’s energy budget are drivers of climate change, (pg. 13).

From Forcing to Attribution of Climate Change (Chapters 8, 9 and 10), (Chap. 1, pg. 151) - In these chapters, all the information on the different drivers (natural and anthropogenic) of climate change is collected, expressed in terms of RF [radiative forcing], and assessed (Chapter 8). As part of this, the science of metrics commonly used in the literature to compare radiative effects from a range of agents (Global Warming Potential, Global Temperature Change Potential and others) is covered.


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