"How is there global warming if it is snowing in Hawaii?"
"I don't remember winters in Ontario being this cold before. Does this mean global warming is not a problem anymore?"
These are not bad questions. Often the terms 'climate change' and 'global warming' seem to be used interchangeably; they both are typically brought up in the context of human activities harming the natural environment and messing with temperature. This has led some to think that these are just two different terms that mean the same thing.
However, while both have to do with the the way human activities and carbon emissions are affecting our planet, they actually have different meanings. So what's the difference?
"[The] phenomenon of increasing average air temperatures near the surface of Earth over the past one to two centuries" - Britannica.com
If you measured the temperature in different places all over the world, all that data might not necessarily tell you whether or not you'll need a warmer jacket for life in your hometown. However, with enough representative points of data, you could use it to calculate the Earth's overall average temperature.
The increase in the Earth's overall average surface temperature is what we call Global Warming.
Considering how since the industrial revolution there has been so much more production, more cars, and fewer trees to filter carbon dioxide out of the air, it's easy for many people to picture the greenhouse effect increasing the planet's average temperature.
But then how do colder temperatures in some places come into play?
"Climate change occurs when long-term weather patterns are altered — for example, through human activity. Global warming is one measure of climate change..." - davidsuzuki.org (italics added)
While weather is short-term atmospheric conditions, climate describes an area's normal, long-term weather patterns. For example, a desert may have rainy weather for a day, but it does not have a wet climate, and only a certain amount of rain would be reasonably expected.
From area to area, "normal" climate will mean something different. It's normal to have snow in Alaska, but much hotter weather is normal in LA. Therefore, a "change" in climate can mean different things in different places. A specific area's climate change may not necessarily be manifested as cool-to-hot, but it can cause extreme weather events to increase in general.
Even human infrastructure is designed based on predictable ranges of day-to-day weather that the region might be expected to experience, with some margin for error. However, climate systems are very complex, so different areas are experiencing problems because their infrastructure was not designed for what is becoming current conditions.
We might not be able to observe global warming directly in our own backyards, but we still could perceive climate change through a lot of weird weather lately.
So if you happen to be on a coast where the waterline has risen far past your favourite spot, feel free to shake your head at global warming. Conversely, if you happen to be in Hawaii and you find it has been cold enough to be snowing at oddly low elevations, you can go ahead and blame climate change.
Kennedy, C., & Lindsey, R. (2015, June 17). What's the difference between global warming and climate change? Retrieved February 25, 2019, from https://www.climate.gov/news-features/climate-qa/whats-difference-between-global-warming-and-climate-changeLam, K. (2019, February 12).
There's 'no place on the planet' – not even Hawaii – to escape climate change, experts say. Retrieved February 25, 2019, from https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2019/02/11/hawaii-extreme-weather-example-climate-change-experts/2843281002/Selin, H., & Mann, M. E. (2019, January 30).
Global warming. Retrieved February 25, 2019, from https://www.britannica.com/science/global-warming
What is climate change? (n.d.). Retrieved February 25, 2019, from https://davidsuzuki.org/what-you-can-do/what-is-climate-change/
What's in a name? Weather, global warming and climate change. (2019, February 06). Retrieved February 25, 2019, from https://climate.nasa.gov/resources/global-warming/