What Is Climate Change? Global Warming Explained

Climate change and global warming are some of the biggest crises facing humanity today. As Earth’s temperature increases and the planet changes, we are seeing dramatic transformations in the world as we know it.

But what exactly are climate change and global warming? And how will they impact our future? Read on to discover more about exactly what climate change and global warming are and what it means for the planet.

What is climate change?

Climate change refers to a change of the planet’s weather patterns.

The term is often used to refer to a specific change that began in the mid-20th century as a result of increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. This increase is largely due to the production of fossil fuels such as coal, oil, and natural gas.

What is global warming?

Global warming is the gradual increase of Earth’s atmospheric temperature.

This increase occurs as a result of the greenhouse effect, which in turn is caused by higher amounts of carbon dioxide, chlorofluorocarbons, and other harmful substances.

What is the difference between global warming and climate change?

The term “global warming” refers to the increase in temperatures around the world, primarily as a result of higher levels of greenhouse gases.

Climate change, on the other hand, refers to changes in weather patterns over a sustained period of time. This includes temperature, rainfall, wind patterns, and so on.

Weather vs climate

The difference between climate and weather is a question of time.

Climate refers to changes in the atmosphere (wind, rain, etc) over a long period of time, while weather refers to the same changes but over a shorter period of time.

What are the effects of global warming?

Global warming brings with it many different effects which impact the way we live. The effects of global warming include:

  • Environment: extreme temperatures, loss of natural water sources, and freak weather events will become more common as global warming continues.
  • Health: changes in the environment will lead to a number of health issues. These include a rise in malnutrition, an increase of respiratory diseases due to higher pollutants in the air, and a more rapid spread of illness and diseases in general.
  • Displacement: as some countries become uninhabitable due to dramatic changes in weather and environment, the world will see mass migration. This in turn can lead to loss of cultures, increased strain on governmental services, and even conflict.

These are just a few of the myriad effects of global warming on the planet. As time goes on and global warming takes hold, the world as we know it will change dramatically within a relatively short space of time.

What are the effects of climate change?

There are several ways that climate change will affect us. The effects of climate change include:

  • Dramatic changes in weather
  • Increased likelihood of extreme weather events
  • Loss of animal species
  • Melting of the polar ice caps
  • Increased loss of human life worldwide

The effects above are just a few ways climate change will impact the world. As the climate changes, virtually every aspect of our lives will be affected.

Is climate change real?

Many people are still sceptical of the existence of climate change and global warming. This is despite the huge and growing amount of evidence for climate change being published.

A number of notable scientific bodies, including NASA and The Royal Society, as well as smaller researchers, have published reams of evidence proving the existence of climate change and global warming.

The reasons for not believing in the existence are varied. For some, it is a challenge to their worldview that is hard to comprehend due to its size. Some might deny its existence because they cannot see the signs of climate changes themselves. For others, especially businesses, it is cheaper and easier to deny the existence of climate change as they do not have to change their working practices.

What causes climate change?

There are a number of factors that cause climate change. These include:

The greenhouse effect

Due to the increased levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the environment, more heat from the sun is being trapped inside the earth’s atmosphere.

Burning fossil fuels

As the world becomes more and more developed, we burn more fossil fuels. These release harmful substances such as carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, which then increases the earth’s temperature.

Cattle breeding

Many countries’ farmers breed cows, sheep, and other livestock. These livestock produce methane, a harmful greenhouse gas that contributes towards the greenhouse effect.

Cows are the biggest producers of methane gas, releasing between 70-120 kg of methane every year.


Trees and plants play an important role in turning carbon dioxide into oxygen, a process known as photosynthesis.

However, many forests are cut down to make way for agriculture or new buildings. As a result, there are less plants to get rid of excess carbon dioxide.

What is the greenhouse effect?

The greenhouse effect is when the sun’s heat is trapped inside Earth’s atmosphere. This is caused by the presence of various greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide. These gases prevent the sun’s heat from leaving the atmosphere, which in turn keeps Earth warm enough to live on.

The greenhouse effect is a natural phenomenon. However, human activities, such as the burning of fossil fuels, release too much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. As a result, Earth is getting too warm too quickly.

What is a greenhouse gas?

A greenhouse gas is any gas that contributes towards the greenhouse effect by preventing the sun’s heat from leaving Earth’s atmosphere.

The main greenhouse gases are:

  • Water vapor
  • Carbon dioxide
  • Nitrous oxide
  • Methane
  • Ozone
  • Hydrofluorocarbons
  • Chlorofluorocarbons

What happens if Earth gets too hot?

If Earth gets too hot, a number of things could happen which would change the planet drastically.

An increase of 2°C would cause heavy floods and storms in lots of countries, especially coastal regions. It would also lead to droughts in other parts of the world.

The increase would also cause the earth’s seas to become more acidic. This is because the ocean absorbs the excess levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which in turn reacts with seawater to become acidic.

A 2°C increase would also melt most, if not all, of the ice in the Arctic. As well as damaging an important natural habitat for polar bears and other creatures, this would also cause the earth’s atmosphere to heat up faster.

This is because polar ice reflects the sun’s rays away from the planet. However, less ice means more heat stays in the earth’s atmosphere.

An increase of more than 2°C would also cause the world’s rainforests to die out. More ice in Antarctica and Greenland would melt, which would cause the sea level to rise. This would affect coastal communities at first, but would spread inland and cause erosion, floods, contamination of agricultural land, and a loss of habitat for a variety of animals. This would also mean the extinction of a range of species.

Finally, an increase of more than 2°C would affect people’s habitats and livelihoods too. Many communities would be displaced, or even lose their lives.

What are fossil fuels?

Fossil fuels are natural fuels made from the remains of dead animals or plants. There are three main forms of fossil fuels:

  • Coal
  • Natural gas
  • Crude oil

Fossil fuels generally exist underground, trapped by layers of rock.

Fossil fuels are made of molecules that contain carbon, which in turn are left over from dead plants and animals. These organisms died millions of years ago, but their bodies became buried underground. This process generates a mineral known as kerogen, or oil shale. Heat from the earth eventually transforms kerogen into different types of fossil fuels.

Fossil fuels are cheap and easy to source. However, they are not renewable. Once the planet’s supply of fossil fuels has been exhausted, they’re gone for good.

Fossil fuels are also very damaging for the planet. The process for extracting and using them causes pollutants to be released into the atmosphere. One such pollutant is carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas which increases the greenhouse effect and causes global warming.

Understanding climate change and global warming is just one step towards helping reduce our impact on the planet and mitigating the effects of climate change on Earth.