Fact check: False claim the term ‘global warming’ was rebranded to ‘climate change’ – USA TODAY
The claim: The term ‘global warming’ was switched to ‘climate change’ because the Earth wasn’t getting any hotter
A Dec. 24 Instagram post (direct link, archive link) features a screenshot of a tweet that claims the term “global warming” was switched to “climate change” because the Earth wasn’t actually getting warmer.
“Remember that time that they had to rebrand ‘Global Warming’ into ‘Climate Change’ because it wasn’t actually getting any hotter and their fear-mongering didn’t make any sense?” reads the tweet. “I do.”
The Instagram post received over 11,000 likes in three days. The original tweet garnered over 1,000 retweets in four days.
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Our rating: False
Climate scientists often prefer the term “climate change” to “global warming” because it encompasses more variations in the climate than just warming, but both terms have been used for decades. The Earth is warming at an unprecedented rate, according to experts.
Global warming and climate change
The terms “global warming” and “climate change” have different meanings. Both of them have been used since at least the 1970s.
Climate change refers to long-term changes in the climate, like precipitation, temperature and wind patterns.
Global warming, on the other hand, is “just one aspect of climate change,” according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
“‘Global warming’ refers to the rise in global temperatures due mainly to the increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere,” the write-up goes on to say.
In 2005, the National Academies of Sciences published a report that explained the preference for “climate change” in the scientific community is because it helps convey that there are changes in addition to rising temperature.”
The Environmental Protection Agency notes the frequency, duration and intensity of heat waves have increased in the U.S. since the 1960s.
“Heat waves are occurring more than they used to in major cities across the United States,” reads the agency’s website. “Extreme weather events such as heat waves and large storms are likely to become more frequent or more intense with human-induced climate change.”
The EPA, for example, has used “climate change” on its page on the topic since 2006, when it used that to replace the “global warming” label and cited the 2005 academy of sciences report.
The term “global warming” first appeared in a 1975 paper titled, “Climatic change: are we on the brink of a pronounced global warming?” according to History.com.
The Earth is warming
While the scientific community appears to have pivoted from “global warming” to “climate change” in the mid-2000s, there is no evidence to suggest this was because the Earth “wasn’t actually getting any hotter,” as the post claims.
NASA reports the global average temperature has risen by about 1.8 degrees due to human activities since the pre-industrial period, now increasing by about .36 degrees per decade.
“The current warming trend is unequivocally the result of human activity since the 1950s and is proceeding at an unprecedented rate over millennia,” the site says.
The warming trend has been mapped by thousands of weather stations worldwide and in collaboration with other countries.
“They all find essentially the same result: Earth’s average surface temperature has risen by about 1.8° … since 1880,” reads an article from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association.
USA TODAY reached out to social media users who shared the post for comment.
Our fact-check sources:
- University of Washington, Nov. 10, 2021, New method shows today’s warming ‘unprecedented’ over past 24,000 years
- U.S Geological Survey, accessed Dec. 28, What is the difference between global warming and climate change?
- NASA, accessed Dec. 27-28, Global Warming vs. Climate Change | Facts – Climate Change: Vital Signs of the Planet
- NASA, accessed Dec. 30, What’s in a Name? Global Warming vs. Climate Change | Precipitation Education
- HISTORY, Aug. 2, The term “global warming” appears for the first time
- National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, Oct. 12, What evidence exists that Earth is warming and that humans are the main cause?
- National Academy of Sciences, 2005, Understanding and Responding to Climate Change
- The Washington Post, Jan. 29, 2018, Debunking the claim ‘they’ changed ‘global warming’ to ‘climate change’ because warming stopped
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