Did you know that “Global Warming” and “Climate Change” mean two different things?

I am the oldest of six kids.  When I was growing up in Lakewood, Ohio, our (large) extended family would gather to share Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner, reconnect with uncles, aunts, and cousins, and drive my mom nuts with the bedlam created by a dozen or so primary school aged kids racing our small house around playing hide-and-seek.

Before the gathering, some of us kids were a bit intimidated by the arrival of the not-often-seen uncles, aunts, and cousins.

My mom sat us down and said we did not need to be shy with them – just get the conversation started by asking them a question like “What do you think about the weather”, and then just sit and listen.  “Everyone will feel comfortable, and get to know one another again”, she said.

That would not work today, would it?  Before long, tension-filled discussions will emerge about whether “Global Warming” or “Climate Change” is real.

The discussions will be messy in part because few on either side of the argument know what the terms “Global Warming” or “Climate Change” mean.

Do you?

The term ” Global Warming” was first used in the 1950s [1]

The image below, produced from data gathered by NASA, shows the increase in average global temperatures over the 40

years between the bottom line in 1880 and the top line in 2022.

What did scientists mean when they used the term global warming?


As I mentioned last week, Americans under 40 years old are far more likely to believe this data than older Americans, and so the generational divide debate begins.  But in this case, the tension is not just caused by age – it is caused by the fact that almost none of the folks on either side of the argument have any idea what the chart is saying.

The key is the word “average”, found in the title of the graph.   The “average” is calculated from 32,000 weather stations all around the world.[3]  To calculate an average, you take all 32,000 numbers, from the coldest to the hottest, add them up, and divide them by 32,000, and that is the average.   It can be very misleading.

If you are arguing with someone who lives in Phoenix Arizona (111 days over 100 degrees in 2020)[4], and you live in Grand Forks, North Dakota (yearly average temperature 42 degrees),[5] your personal experience does not match what the scientists mean when they talk about the change in “global annual average temperatures.”

If you look at the image below of tire pressure in your car, on the left side you see a safe car, with all the tires inflated to the same pressure. In the right image side, you will see a flat tire in the right rear, and an almost-ready-to-explode tire in the left front tire.   THE AVERAGE IS STILL 24 PSI. Would you want your family to be occupying that car at 65 miles an hour? You can see how using “Average” can put your family at risk.

This misleading data presentation is what caused scientists to begin to use the phrase “Climate Change” starting in the 1980s.   

Climate Change counts many things like changes in rainfall, snow, local hot and cold days, humidity, wind speed, ocean temperature, and rising sea levels.  The data says we need to act quickly.  In 2020, for the first time in our history, the U.S. experienced a record-breaking 22 separate billion-dollar weather and climate disasters.[6] By early January 2022, 193 tornadoes were confirmed in December alone — the greatest number of tornadoes for any December on record.[7]  

Stop talking about Global Warming and talk about Climate Change.

And when the youngsters hanging around your discussion express their anxiety about the future, tell them there a number of things that they can do to slow down or stop this problem.

One fun and comforting thing you adults can do is help to replicate programs done all around the country that teach kids to plant trees on school grounds.   These trees lower local average temperature, provide more comfortable outdoor play spaces, and lower school air conditioning costs, and the leaves eat up some of the climate-changing gasses, leading to a more comfortable environment.

A national program called ONETREEPLANTED has created a whole website containing instructions about how to set up a program, where to get funding for the trees, and curriculum materials that teachers can use to explain the role of trees in the climate change issue.[8] Just search the internet for it.

The City of Portland, Oregon has a program called Learning Landscapes that provides trees and instruction to students about how to plant them. (9)  

Closer to home, Charlotte Mecklenburg School System works with a group called TreesCharlotte that is dedicated to both teachings about the benefits of trees to the environment, and how to successfully plant them.  The group has created curriculum modules for elementary, middle school, and high school teachers to weave into the science curriculum.   The program has helped students plant 12,135 trees on school grounds since 2012.!(10)

It is time for adults to teach the next generation about the mess we are in, the correct words to use when talking about it, and what the younger-than-us can do to solve this problem.   You need to teach them to plant a tree.  Will you?

Authored by Francis Koster Ed. D

[1]  https://www.dictionary.com/e/new-words-surrounding-climate-change/

[2] https://www.statista.com/chart/23942/global-warming-over-last-decades/

[3] https://climate.nasa.gov/ask-nasa-climate/3071/the-raw-truth-on-global-temperature-records/

[4] https://www.currentresults.com/Weather-Extremes/US/hottest-cities.php

[5] https://housegrail.com/coldest-cities-in-the-us/#2_Grand_Forks_ND

[6] https://www.noaa.gov/news/us-saw-its-4th-warmest-year-on-record-fueled-by-record-warm-december

[7] https://www.noaa.gov/news/us-saw-its-4th-warmest-year-on-record-fueled-by-record-warm-december

[8] https://www.portland.gov/trees/get-involved/learning-landscapes

[9] https://onetreeplanted.org/pages/school

[10] https://treescharlotte.org/who-we-are/tree-success/