Recently I decided to trace why we seem to read and hear the expression “climate change” more often these days than “global warming.” I’m not the only person who has noticed that the global changes we are seeing do not trend uniformly in the direction of warming. What about the many snow storms this winter, reaching farther south than usual in the U.S.? What about the apparent increase in the number of hurricanes? What about the thick air over the Grand Canyon in Arizona, not to mention the un-breathable air much of the time in Beijing, China?
I decided to Google this exact question: When did “global warming” become “climate change”? It turns out this was not the best way to word my question. I went through the first four pages of answers, some helpful but many rants by people who don’t “believe” in either global warming or climate change. But here’s what I learned.
The entire history of these two expressions is available on those pages in two or three versions. I noted an article in the New York Times on Oct. 15, 2011, that seemed to use the two terms more or less interchangeably. However, an earlier NASA article (12/04/08) preferred “global climate change” because: “Global warming refers [only] to surface temperature increases, while climate change includes global warming and everything else that increasing greenhouse gas amounts will affect.” This was an Aha! moment for me.
The articles I read or scanned quickly show a gradual evolution in preference for using the word “change” over “warming” in the 1980s and 1990s. Maybe we can trace this to the fact that it was in 1988 that an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was set up by the United Nations.