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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Global Warming Versus Climate Change: We Used to Have Winter

Editor’s note: This post is part of the Green Moms Carnival, which is hosted on our very own MC Milker’s blog The Not Quite Crunchy Parent. This month’s topic is global warming.

I recently assisted in a historical slide show of our small mountain community, and when this slide came up of the US Forest Service ranger station in 1931, a senior citizen who had lived in our valley since she was a young girl said, “We used to have winter.” This statement sent butterflies to my stomach, and it made me reflect on what my own grandparents used to tell me about winter. Their stories of trudging to school in several feet of snow always felt like old exaggerated tall tales, but were they? What will we tell our grandchildren about winter?

When talking to children about what is happening to our seasons, I feel it is important to use correct terminology.

We really aren’t experiencing just global warming, but we are experiencing climate change. The term “climate change” includes changes in weather systems as part of its definition, rather than simple “global warming”, which refers to the overall warming of average temperatures.

These terms are not interchangeable, and I believe that climate change more accurately portrays the long term crisis we are potentially facing. This issue in semantics may not seem important in the big picture, but I believe in equipping children with the proper terminology. The Grinning Planet describes the difference between climate change and global warming:

Climate change is about much more than how warm or cool our temperatures are. Whereas “global warming” refers to increasing global temperatures, “climate change” refers to regional conditions…

Even though the main threat right now is warming planetary temperatures, climate change can also mean global cooling…

It’s worth remembering that global warming is based on an increasing average global temperature. Some parts of the planet (such as the Arctic) are getting warmer much faster than other areas. It’s even possible that some regions could actually experience regional cooling at the same time the planet as a whole is experiencing global warming.

Climate change more accurately describes what is happening and what could happen if we don’t fix this problem now. Global warming is more of a mainstream term, and yes, I sometimes err and use the terms interchangeably, but we owe it to our children to try to teach them accurate terminology for a problem they will be addressing in throughout their entire lifetimes. Let’s hope they don’t have to tell their grandchildren, “We used to have summers where we could go outside.”

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