What Is Climate Change?


“Blast furnace A & B” by Mad House Photography is licensed under CC BY 2.0

By: Abigail Romero, Reporter

Chances are you’ve heard about “Climate Change” or “Global Warming,” but what actually is it?

Climate change is a long-term change in the average weather patterns, oceans, land, and Earth’s local, regional, and global climates occurring over time scales of decades or longer.

Global warming is the long-term heating of Earths climate system due to human emissions of greenhouse gases. Global warming and climate change are frequently used interchangeably although they have significant differences.

So, what are “greenhouse gasses” and what is the “greenhouse effect”?


Earth is surrounded by a jacket of gasses called the atmosphere. In the day, the Sun’s rays shine through the atmosphere warming Earth’s surface, some rays are reflected back into space.

But, some of that heat is trapped by the gasses in the atmosphere, called greenhouse gasses. Carbon dioxide, water vapor, and methane are greenhouse gases.

Earth needs a balance of greenhouse gasses to maintain the right temperature for organisms.

But, humans have been interfering with the energy balance of the planet, mainly through the burning of fossil fuels that give off additional carbon dioxide.

Carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere have been rising consistently for decades and trap’s extra heat near the surface of the Earth, causing temperatures to rise.

Why is “Climate Change” the preferred term and not “Global Warming”?

Climate Change shows that because of the accumulating greenhouse gasses the climate is changing, not just warming.

Wait, why is climate change a bad thing?

Climate change doesn’t just impact a few small animals or a few plants, it impacts every single person and living creature on Earth.

Climate change causes: rising temperatures, air quality, vector-born diseases, extreme weather, like droughts, hurricanes, and tornados, unsafe water, agriculture, food, even the economy can be impacted by climate change. There a millions of climate change refugees, actual people who are forced out of their home because of climate change, there are animals going extinct, oceans being polluted, forests being cut down, and no one seems to talk about climate change.

How can I help?

Talk to your family and friends, and make sure they understand what climate change is, recycle, plant trees, grow a garden, reuse plastic bags and water bottles, use renewable energy, energy-efficient appliances, reduce water waste, eat the food you buy (about 10% of U.S. energy goes into growing, processing, packaging, and shipping food and about 40% of which just ends up in landfills), use LED light bulbs (they’re cheaper in the long run and won’t end up in landfills, unplug the appliances not being used (all “idle” appliances in the U.S. add up to the output of 50 large power plants), drive a fuel-efficient vehicle, and try buying from companies or stores that use renewable power.