A Definition of Climate Change

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This old definition of climate change once provided us an important distinction between the terms, "global warming" and "climate change". According to the seemingly defunct United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (Article 1), climate change is "a change of climate which is attributed directly or indirectly to human activity that alters the composition of the global atmosphere and which is in addition to natural climate variability observed over comparable time periods."

In the early 1990's, when this edict was first decreed, climate change was the single most important environmental issue faced by people everywhere. A contemporary definition of global warming referred simply to an increase in the overall average temperature of the earth’s surface, without attributing a specific cause such as human activity although such warming could contribute to global warming.

Then and Now - changes in the definition of climate change

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Scientists now openly acknowledge that climate change is effected through a number of mechanisms including human activity. Other drivers include energy output from the sun, the Milankovitch Cycles climate force, movement of the plates covering the surface of the earth, and changes in ocean currents. They also have known for a long time that climates have changed dramatically since the inception of the earth. So, it stands to reason that the definition of climate change has also evolved over time.

The UNFCCC stated climate change exists specifically because of human activities that have changed the composition of the atmosphere, and leads to increasingly turbulent storms, melting of ice caps and the resultant rise in sea levels, changes to the physical face of the earth such as desertification, and has a noticeable effect on our daily activities. The consequences of climate sounded alarming, but the silver lining to the impending dark cloud was that the effects of climate change could be reduced by changing our daily


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One of the buzzwords associated with the definition of climate change remains the "carbon footprint", which refers to the amount of emissions in the form of carbon dioxide produced by individual humans. While there is no irrefutable evidence either way that says that carbon dioxide is the cause of climate change, there is still a body evidence, however tainted it may be, that says that by reducing the amount of carbon dioxide created through the use of fossil fuels, humans may be able to reduce our impact on the environment.

While global warming refers specifically to a change in temperature, the effects of climate change are much farther reaching. Climate change encompasses a number of changes in the weather conditions that effect humans and which are attributable to both natural and human factors. As our atmosphere continues to change, an understanding of the factors that contribute to climate change upon which we can have a direct effect will improve our chances to lessen our impact on the world around us.

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