Global Warming vs. Climate Change vs. Climate Chaos

I was very happy about a lot of the U.S. election results on Tuesday, November 6th, 2012. But I think the single most important issue of our time was hardly discussed at all by Republicans or Democrats: global warming. People also refer to it as “climate change”. But I think “climate chaos” is the best term for the changes we are facing. And as Super Storm Sandy has shown, the changes are not in the distant, hypothetical future: they are now.

Because of that urgency, I think it’s important to choose our words carefully. Again, words have power.


Global Warming – sounds good!

To be honest, on the surface, the term “global warming” actually sounds good, or even great. I live in Boston, Massachusetts and I often wish the weather was warmer! But we live on a planet with complex, interconnected ecosystems. Raising average temperatures even slightly can cause huge changes in our climate, including creating very cold conditions. More and more people understand this in the U.S. Most people in Europe already understand and “believe in” global warming and climate change.

The problem is that even people who understand it aren’t pushing for big changes with urgency that we need.


Climate Change – sounds neutral! change can be good or bad….

Technically and accurately speaking:

As the name suggests, ‘global warming’ refers to the long-term trend of a rising average global temperature…. ‘Climate change’, again as the name suggests, refers to the changes in the global climate which result from the increasing average global temperature.

as this article states from Skeptical Science: Getting Skeptical About Global Warming Skepticism.

But the fact is, many people now use the term “global warming” and “climate change” interchangeably.

There’s one idea for why this is: according to this scientist from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, he was forced by Republican political appointees to start using the term “climate change” instead of “global warming”. Dave Miller writes in a letter to the editor:

“Climate change” is politically correct nonsense, but Republican pollster Frank Luntz and George W. Bush are to blame, not Al Gore. Luntz sold the phrase to Bush: “Climate change” is less frightening than “global warming.” While “global warming” has catastrophic connotations attached, “climate change” suggests a more controllable challenge. Bush agreed.

Republican political appointees at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, where I was a biologist, forced scientists to always use “climate change” instead of the accurate and alarming “global warming.”


Maybe “global warming” does sound more alarming than “climate change”. But I think we can do a lot better:


Climate Chaos – sounds really bad and is accurately descriptive 

“Climate chaos” is the type of “climate change” that we are already experiencing: chaotic, unpredictable, and extreme. As some people have said after Hurricane Sandy: “We seem to be having hundred year storms every couple years!” Actually, just last year Hurricane Irene caused such severe flooding in Vermont that bridges that were hundreds of years old were destroyed.

In the case of Hurricane Irene and Hurricane Sandy, my home of Boston experienced strong winds and rain that caused trees around my house to fall over and some people in Massachusetts were without power for many days. In both cases we were definitely spared from the worst of the storm. But who knows when my neighborhood could be the center of the storm?

There are still “global warming deniers” but others say that Hurricane Sandy may become the new normal. I think they’re both wrong. I think it’s going to get a lot worse. Just how much worse depends on how much we change things on a society level now. I’m proud of the fact that I get by without a car. But personal efforts are not what will make enough of a difference.

I can’t recommend this article highly enough: A Convenient Excuse by Wen Stephenson in the Boston Phoenix. Wen speaks with such courage, honesty, and authority as a mainstream journalist turned climate activist. He talks about the need to talk about global warming and climate chaos, as a crisis. Even publications that acknowledge man made global warming exists, do not talk about it enough, with enough urgency. One article every few years or even every few months, or weeks doesn’t give the issue justice.

And I submit this addition to the dialogue: climate chaos.

And on more concrete terms, check out and their Do the Math Tour. They’re going around the U.S. right now. Meet up with groups like them ( also has state and regional groups) and see how you can get involved.

I’m glad Obama was reelected but he has done very little to address climate chaos. We need to put pressure on him and other political and business leaders starting now.

And support Green Party and other candidates who already understand the urgency of the threat of climate chaos. I don’t live in a swing state so I voted for Green Party Presidential Candidate Jill Stein without hesitation.


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