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Environment, STEM

Climate Does Change

For the last two weeks, I’ve been obsessing over the topic for my 100th post to A Bridge for Business & STEM. My thoughts were drifting between a subject that I hadn’t written about, like solar energy, a summation of my blogging experience, or expanding on a previous topic, e.g. social climbing. Leave it to the media to provide an answer!

Image courtesy of NASA, 03.31.2014

Image courtesy of NASA, 03.31.2014

Yesterday, the Obama Administration unveiled the Third U.S. National Climate Assessment (NCA) Report.[Ref 1] The report is touted as the most comprehensive and authoritative scientific report ever generated about climate change in the U.S. and for the remainder of this century. A lengthy document, it is over 800 pages.

While I plan to spend lots of time reviewing this report as well as many other references on this topic, the primary purpose of this post is to make my readers aware that climate change and global warming are not the same thing. However, the two terms are often used interchangeably, and it is incorrect to do so.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) [Ref 2] defines global warming as the increase in the earth’s annually averaged air temperature near the surface. Thermometer readings are collected from thousands of weather stations around the world—over land and ocean—and used to produce a global average temperature for each year. The resulting series of annual averages of global temperature from 1880 to 2012 show that the earth has warmed by 1.5°F (0.85°C). Most of that warming has occurred since 1976.

Climate change, on the other hand, is a long-term shift in the statistics of the weather (including its averages). As an example, it could show up as a change in climate normals (expected average values for temperature and precipitation) for a given place and time of year, from one decade to the next. [Ref 3]

Figure 1: Portraits of Global Aerosols (Image credit: William Putman, NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center)

Figure 1: Portraits of Global Aerosols (Image credit: William Putman, NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center)

Some of the folks at the Gallup [Ref 4] organization take a more simplified approach in their definition. Global warming refers to the overall warming of the earth’s atmosphere that most scientists attribute to increased concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere that stem from human actions such as burning fossil fuels. Climate change refers to the changing climatic conditions and their effects that result from global warming — including major changes in temperature, precipitation, or wind patterns that occur over several decades or longer.

According to the Obama Administration, findings in the new NCA report are the result of a three-year analytical effort by a team of over 300 climate scientists and experts, informed by inputs gathered through more than 70 technical workshops and stakeholder listening sessions held across the country. The resulting product was subjected to extensive review by the public and by scientific experts in and out of government.

One of the major findings of the NCA report is that the U.S. is already experiencing negative impacts from climate change. Needless to say, the report has it nay-sayers and proponents, many along partisan lines. I look forward to sharing my knowledge on both topics in future blog post.

In the meantime, you would be correct in noting  that climate does change!


1. The White House, http://www.whitehouse.gov
2. Global Warming Frequently Asked Questions, NOAA Climate.gov, David Herring, Updated February 25, 2014, http://www.climate.gov/news-features/understanding-climate/global-warming-frequently-asked-questions, last viewed on 05.06.2014
3. What is Climate Change, NOAA National Weather Service, http://www.nws.noaa.gov/om/brochures/climate/Climatechange.pdf, October 2007, last viewed on 05.06.2014
4. “Global Warming or Climate Change: Is There a Difference?”, Guest commentary
by Riley E. Dunlap, Gallup Scholar for the Environment, http://www.gallup.com/poll/168617/global-warming-climate-change-difference.aspx, last viewed on 05.06.2014


About Vi Brown

Vi is principal and CEO of Prophecy Consulting Group, LLC, an Arizona firm that provides business and engineering services to private and public clients. Prior to establishing her consulting practice in 2001, Vi worked with Motorola, Maricopa County Government, Pacific Gas & Electric, CH2M Hill, and Procter & Gamble. As an adjunct faculty member, Vi teaches undergraduate calculus classes and graduate level environmental courses. She is also a professional speaker.



  1. Pingback: Climate Does Change | BridgeBizSTEM - May 7, 2014

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