Before understanding climate change science, first define the difference between climate and weather.
There are more similarities between the two than differences, but the key is long-term occurrences and impact. Weather is the current state of the Earth’s atmosphere and it’s short-term variations. It’s raining, it’s pouring, the old man is snoring type of business.
Climate, however, has a much more dynamic definition— one that is constantly being challenged and reviewed. Think of climate as the average of weather. All those short-term occurrences like heat waves, thunderstorms, etc., add up to create the climate.
Fun fact: Climate originated from the Greek word “klima”, an astronomical term for the length of the longest day at different latitude.
Now consider this: climate is dynamic. It changes over time with each weather anomaly, expressing the characteristics of the atmosphere. (Yes, the atmosphere has a personality!)
So what do we mean by climate change?
Initially, it was termed “climatic change” by the World Meteorological Organization in 1966. This was a “term to embrace all forms of climatic inconstancy on timescales longer than 10 years, irrespective of cause” (from Hulme, 2017). Shorter term “inconsistencies” were considered “climate variations”. We were looking at changes on the scale of hundreds or years or millennia. By 1977, the journal Climatic Change was established.
Professor Mike Hulme seems to hold the public’s attention on the history of climate change in culture. In my current studies, I’ve found Hulme referenced quite a bit, so I’ll just paste this here: http://www.mikehulme.org/.
According to Hulme (2017), society began to perceive climate change as a noun, rather than an adjective (climatic change) and saw it as a modern day issue, similar to those with human rights, water pollution, etc.
By 1988, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) formed, followed by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in 1992. Climate change became a regular discussion in and out of science, as both organizations conducted assessments on peer-reviewed publications and evaluated climate change impacts, vulnerability, and/or adaptive capacities.
Going back to Hulme, now, we can recognize that the science of climate change shifted again during the 80’s and 90’s. The term became politicized. It no longer vaguely focused on human involvement but instead became directly associated with human activity and natural processes alike. More so, it became a cultural and contested issue.
With the introduction of the IPCC and the UNFCCC came another issue: the disagreement over our direct involvement and contribution to climatic changes. Should we consider “climate change” to only refer to the effects that humans have on the environment or should we also include the natural processes that happen regardless?
“Climate change refers to statistically significant variation in either the mean state of climate or its variability, persisting for an extended period (typically decades or longer). Climate change may be due to natural internal processes or external forcings, or to persistent anthropogenic changes in the composition of the atmosphere or in land use.”
“A change in climate which is attributed to human activity that alters thecomposition of the atmosphere and which is in addition to natural climate variability observed over comparable time periods.”
With two influential groups separating on the details of a description, you can easily see how an argument can be made against the credibility of climate change’s existence in the first place. In addition, politics and culture have transformed what was once a science into a modern-day issue. Combined, this issue can easily transform into an argument as to what policy and business should and should not be implemented— which, for people with money and capital in mind, can be seen as threatening.
In the end, science is objective but it reflects human pursuit for truth… and sometimes, the truth hurts.