Climate Change

Note: This page is part of the AllSides Balanced Dictionary. It is meant to define what terms mean to different people. If you want to read about arguments for or against the position, please visit the AllSides Issues page on the Environment.

Over time, different terms have been used to explain the claim that human activity is causing the climate to change. The term “climate change” has replaced "global warming," which in turn replaced "greenhouse effect."

Those who believe climate change is a real threat caused by humans say this revision in terminology was made in a desperate attempt to reach climate-change deniers, or those who can’t or won’t see the scientific facts about what humanity is doing to the climate and the negative effects it will have on our planet. In this perspective, these terms have evolved because they needed to become more effective to convey complicated scientific understandings to an uneducated or apathetic populace. In particular, the move to use the term “climate change” instead of "global warming" was needed because ordinary people could not understand the fact that an increase in global mean (average) temperature does not equate to uniform increases in local temperatures everywhere on the planet.

On the other side, those who believe that climate change is not cause for alarm or a hoax see the historical evolutions of the term quite differently. These people call themselves "climate-change skeptics," and they believe "climate-change alarmists" keep changing the term as part of an ongoing attempt to hoodwink smart people into voting for certain politicians or donating to certain groups. These people say the climate has always naturally changed over many millennia — making the term “climate change” meaningless or misleading.

QUESTIONS TO PLAY WITH: 

-If the term for what people call “climate change” was a more perfect representation of what is really going on, what would that better term be, from your perspective?  

-Ask a few people the question just above this one. What surprises you about what you hear?

-Imagine a future in which your expectations about climate change, whatever they are, have been proven correct. Looking back into the present, what one thing do you wish you had done differently? Now imagine the opposite future: one where your expectations have been completely overturned. What do you regret this time?

Contributors: 

Julie Mastrine, Cynthia Kurtz, Michael Strong

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