What Is the Difference Between Global Warming and Climate Change?

SeppFriedhuber/Vetta/Getty Images

Global warming indicates a change in the average temperature of the Earth as a whole, while climate change involves several factors in a localized situation. The media uses the two terms interchangeably, which often leads to confusion.

Global warming is a one-dimensional change. It is a global increase in temperature caused by an increase in greenhouse gases. These gases form an insulating layer that allows light and heat to pass, but it prevents heat from escaping back into the atmosphere.

In contrast, climate change is multidimensional and includes precipitation, humidity, winds and temperature. Changes in the distribution of precipitation throughout the year are considered climate changes even though the annual precipitation remains the same.

While global warming and climate change are significantly different, global warming affects climate. The increase in temperature often results in less precipitation. It may change the form of precipitation in a location from snow to rain. Warmer temperatures cause a decrease in humidity and precipitation. These changes bring about drought conditions in areas where rains once provided the necessary moisture for survival.

Burning fossil fuels is a major contributor to the increase in greenhouse gases that cause global warming. Carbon dioxide, ozone, methane and nitrous oxide are the primary greenhouse gases that humans produce, according to About.com.