Global warming vs. climate change

Around this time of the year we tend to hear cries of “so much for global warming, it’s so darned cold” filtering down from the northern hemisphere. Meanwhile, we here in Australia are about to bake again.

The next day or so is going to get a little nasty; so much so that many schools and parks in South Australia will be closed due to the threat of fire. Our neighboring state of Victoria is bracing itself for a flare up of fires that are still burning after the recent bush fire that claimed hundreds of lives. Not so well publicized is the fact that hundreds of people died in South Australia and Victoria in the heat wave leading up to the fires.

All this down south, while up in the north of Australia, they are recovering from massive flooding.

As I wrote a couple of years ago, weather and climate are different beasties. Weather is a localised event that’s currently occurring whereas climate is the general meteorological pattern of a region over a period of time.

As someone who firmly believes that global warming *is* occurring, and most likely now past the tipping point; I’m certainly one to blame it for a lot of weather events as they happen. It was only after looking at that post on weather vs. climate that I was reminded it’s not always a good thing to do without looking at the bigger picture.

However, under 2mm of rain in 2 months during a drought that just seems to have no end goes beyond “weather” I feel and climate change I believe did play a part in the ferocity of the recent fires and the fact they’ve been so hard to put out.

As for what’s happening nearer the top end of the world, places like Switzerland are currently experiencing extreme cold and record snow. Heinz Wanner from Switzerland’s Climatology and Meteorology Research Group has pointed out that it’s a local and isolated event. The global trend for the last three decades has been temperatures increasing on average about 0.2 degrees per decade. In Switzerland it’s actually higher, at about 0.3 degrees. Aside from that, there has been a link made between unusual warming in one part of the world causing a cold snap in another. What seems to be rapidly disappearing in our climatic systems around the world is stability.

“Global warming” is probably a bad name for the boogeyman that represents the incredible challenges we face now as a species. It really gives those who don’t accept it ammunition every time there’s a cold snap in some part of the world which can also tip other people still sitting on the fence the wrong way. The static they generate can sometimes drown out the very important warning messages being broadcast.

I know “global warming” and “climate change” are just words but it’s not just a case of “you say tomatoe and I say tomato” – that saying is hard to put down in written words but I think you know the one :).

There’s a lot riding on raising awareness of what’s happening to our world and the more people who accept it is occurring, the faster we’ll be able to do something solid about it instead of prancing around the issue.

While the “global warming” term is accurate, climate change is one that’s equally so, without giving some misguided folks who are desperately clinging to lifestyles of hyperconsumption more (fossil) fuel to add to their coal fires. Those fires really need to be stamped out totally before they engulf much more than those already tending to them.

This is not a game, this is not a maybe future event, this is not a point scoring debate to be quibbled over back and forth until it’s too late, this is not a drill. Climate change is now and the best we can hope for is to minimize the damage.