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All IPCC definitions taken from Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis. Working Group I Contribution to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Annex I, Glossary, pp. 941-954. Cambridge University Press.

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Climate Hustle

Global warming vs climate change

What the science says...

There have long been claims that some unspecificed "they" has "changed the name from 'global warming' to 'climate change'". In reality, the two terms mean different things, have both been used for decades, and the only individual to have specifically advocated changing the name in this fashion is a global warming 'skeptic'.

Climate Myth...

They changed the name from 'global warming' to 'climate change'

Global Warming vs. Climate Change

Both of the terms in question are used frequently in the scientific literature, because they refer to two different physical phenomena.  As the name suggests, 'global warming' refers to the long-term trend of a rising average global temperature, which you can see here:

'Climate change', again as the name suggests, refers to the changes in the global climate which result from the increasing average global temperature.  For example, changes in precipitation patterns, increased prevalence of droughts, heat waves, and other extreme weather, etc.  These projections of future global precipitation changes from the 2007 IPCC report are an example of climate change:

Thus while the physical phenomena are causally related, they are not the same thing.  Human greenhouse gas emissions are causing global warming, which in turn is causing climate change.  However, because the terms are causally related, they are often used interchangeably in normal daily communications.

Both Terms Have Long Been Used

The argument "they changed the name" suggests that the term 'global warming' was previously the norm, and the widespread use of the term 'climate change' is now.  However, this is simply untrue.  For example, a seminal climate science work is Gilbert Plass' 1956 study 'The Carbon Dioxide Theory of Climatic Change' (which coincidentally estimated the climate sensitivity to a doubling of atmospheric carbon dioxide at 3.6°C, not far off from today's widely accepted most likely value of 3°C).  Barrett and Gast published a letter in Science in 1971 entitled simply 'Climate Change'.  The journal 'Climatic Change' was created in 1977 (and is still published today).  The IPCC was formed in 1988, and of course the 'CC' is 'climate change', not 'global warming'.  There are many, many other examples of the use of the term 'climate change' many decades ago.  There is nothing new whatsoever about the usage of the term.

In fact, according to Google Books, the usage of both terms in books published in the United States has increased at similar rates over the past 40 years:

And a Google Scholar search reveals that the term 'climate change' was in use before the term 'global warming', and has always been the more commonly-used term in scientific literature:

No Reason to Change the Term

Those who perpetuate the "they changed the name" myth generally suggest two reasons for the supposed terminology change.  Either because (i) the planet supposedly stopped warming, and thus the term 'global warming' is no longer accurate, or (ii) the term 'climate change' is more frightening.

The first premise is demonstrably wrong, as the first figure above shows the planet is still warming, and is still accumulating heat.  Quite simply, global warming has not stopped.

The second premise is also wrong, as demonstrated by perhaps the only individual to actually advocate changing the term from 'global warming' to 'climate change', Republican political strategist Frank Luntz in a controversial memo advising conservative politicians on communicating about the environment:

It’s time for us to start talking about “climate change” instead of global warming and “conservation” instead of preservation.

“Climate change” is less frightening than “global warming”. As one focus group participant noted, climate change “sounds like you’re going from Pittsburgh to Fort Lauderdale.” While global warming has catastrophic connotations attached to it, climate change suggests a more controllable and less emotional challenge.


So to sum up, although the terms are used interchangeably because they are causally related, 'global warming' and 'climate change' refer to different physical phenomena.  The term 'climate change' has been used frequently in the scientific literature for many decades, and the usage of both terms has increased over the past 40 years.  Moreover, since the planet continues to warm, there is no reason to change the terminology.  Perhaps the only individual to advocate the change was Frank Luntz, a Republican political strategist and global warming skeptic, who used focus group results to determine that the term 'climate change' is less frightening to the general public than 'global warming'.  There is simply no factual basis whatsoever to the myth "they changed the name from global warming to climate change".

Basic rebuttal written by GPWayne

Update July 2015:

Here is the relevant lecture-video from Denial101x - Making Sense of Climate Science Denial

Additional video from the MOOC

Expert interview with Richard Alley 

Last updated on 5 July 2015 by pattimer. View Archives

Printable Version  |  Offline PDF Version  |  Link to this page

Further viewing


Comments 1 to 11:

  1. Excellent piece. Thanks once again to Dana for sterling work.
  2. I believe this article could be improved by adding an explanation of how scientists define the "Climate System" and that the acceleration of the greenhouse effect due to mankind's activites impacts all of the components of the "Climate System" not just the atmosphere.
  3. Getting a 404 on the link to the Frank Lutz memo,


    [DB] A copy can be found here.

  4. Maybe typo "'climate change' is now". I want "...refers to the long-term trend of a rising average global temperature" to be "...increasing global heat content" (I mean everywhere, not this article), would it cause a foofaraw if I get it changed ?

  5. Great article, as usual. I love your site. It is incredibly useful.

    I just wrote a short and simple blog about this very topic, focusing on what "big data" (via Google Books Ngram Viewer) can tell us about this question. There are some interesting differences in the results between "American English" and "British English".

    If you follow climate change/global warming, you will likely encounter people who insist that the term “global warming” was changed to “climate change” for various reasons (e.g., “global warming stopped, so they changed the name”, etc.).

    One way to test this hypothesis is to tap into “big data”, in this case Google’s database of English books. Google has a cool tool called the “Ngram Viewer”, which allows you to determine the frequency of words and phrases in their database of books. What does Google’s Ngram Viewer tell us about this hypothesis?

    Read more here: http://ow.ly/uy2fv


  6. I believe that some people also use "climate change" because they feel that "global warming" invites the misconception that warming would occur uniformly and univerversally around the world. I've also heard "global weirding" and "climate chaos," neither of which is entirely accurate either (since even unusual or catastrophic effects have their causes). I suppose any term can be open to misinterpretations, and we've just got to do our best to avoid or correct those.

  7. =(     NASA just came out and disproved your definition of Global Warming/Climate Change. 

    "Global warming: the increase in Earth’s average surface temperature due to rising levels of greenhouse gases.

    Climate change: a long-term change in the Earth’s climate, or of a region on Earth."



    [TD] A) "Disproved" is inaccurate/wrong/odd.

            B) Please read that page you linked to, then actually read this Skeptical Science post.  Really, read them.  Both.  Carefully. 

            C) Feel free to comment again, correcting yourself.

  8. I like to use the phrase "global warming induced climate change" in my rebutles.

  9. What of this?




    [RH] Sorry. No link only posts. Please review commenting rules.

  10. And — What of this , Conventionalske @9 ??

    Is there a point you wish to make, or a point you wish to discuss ?

  11. The misnamed* Conventionalskepticist @9 asks, "What of this?"

    In doing so he provides two links without explanation or argument, in contradiction of the fifth requirement specified in the comments policy, ie:

    "No link or picture only. Any link or picture should be accompanied by text summarizing both the content of the link or picture, and showing how it is relevant to the topic of discussion. Failure to do both of these things will result in the comment being considered off topic."

    The links themselves are to a graph, and two pictures which are themselves off topic on this thread, and hence in violation of the first point of the comments policy:

    "All comments must be on topic. Comments are on topic if they draw attention to possible errors of fact or interpretation in the main article, of if they discuss the immediate implications of the facts discussed in the main article. However, general discussions of Global Warming not explicitly related to the details of the main article are always off topic. Moderation complaints are always off topic and will be deleted"

    These two violations make me suspect "Conventionalskepticist" is angling to have her/his comment deleted for violation of the comments policy so they can complain about "being censored at SkS" at their favourite fake "skeptic" hangout.  They will, of course, not have been censored, but will be demonstrating that they are a precious petal who thinks the rules do not apply to them because they are so special.

    For what it is worth, the first link is to a version of the Remote Sensing Systems TMT temperature series, commencing in January of 1998 to ensure we cannot draw a proper trend on the record, and terminating in what looks like March of 2014 due to, at best laziness, but more likely a desire to exclude the 2015 and 2016 records from the chart.  If you do not lie by concealing data, what you actually see is this:

    In which the curren EL Nino, likely weaker than that of 1998, has recorded three successive monthly temperatures warmer than the warmest month in 1998, with February of 1998 being 0.23 C, (0.41 F) warmer than the warmest month in 1998.

    *  Misnamed because he shows her/himself to be incredibly unsceptical of denier crap, and/or intellectually dishonest, neither of which are features of skepticism as conventionally understood.

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