“Climate change” and “global warming” are often used interchangeably but have distinct meanings. Similarly, the terms "weather" and "climate" are sometimes confused, though they refer to events with broadly different spatial- and timescales.
Weather vs. climate
“If you don’t like the weather in New England, just wait a few minutes.”
Weather refers to atmospheric conditions that occur locally over short periods of time—from minutes to hours or days. Familiar examples include rain, snow, clouds, winds, floods or thunderstorms.
Climate, on the other hand, refers to the long-term regional or even global average of temperature, humidity and rainfall patterns over seasons, years or decades.
What is global warming?
Global warming refers to the long-term warming of the planet since the early 20th century, and most notably since the late 1970s, due to the increase in fossil fuel emissions since the Industrial Revolution. Worldwide since 1880, the average surface temperature has gone up by about 1 °C (about 2 °F), relative to the mid-20th-century baseline (of 1951-1980). This is on top of about an additional 0.15 °C of warming from between 1750 and 1880.
What is climate change?
Climate change refers to a broad range of global phenomena created predominantly by burning fossil fuels, which add heat-trapping gases to Earth’s atmosphere. These phenomena include the increased temperature trends described by global warming, but also encompass changes such as sea level rise; ice mass loss in Greenland, Antarctica, the Arctic and mountain glaciers worldwide; shifts in flower/plant blooming; and extreme weather events.
Learn more at our Frequently Asked Questions.
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