We at Gingerhill strive to perpetuate the most efficient and ethical forms of sustainable agriculture Hawaii has ever seen. A core aspect of sustainability is practicing techniques designed to combat climate change and global warming. Doing so requires an intricate understanding of global warming and climate change–terms that are often used interchangeably but, in actuality, have different meanings. Understanding the definitions of climate change and global warming, as well as the connection between them, allows us to pursue our vision for a sustainable world.
Is the term “climate change” coming to replace the pervasive, fear-instilling “global warming”? Well, yes and no. The use of the term “climate change” has significantly increased since the beginning of the 21st century. The use of “global warming” has witnessed a slight decline. The media, at present, seems to prefer climate change to global warming. Thus, popular news articles have started to employ the term more frequently, accounting for its recent climb on Google Scholar.
In actuality, scientists have employed both terms in academic literature for decades. In fact, climate change has always been used more frequently than global warming in both academic literature and popular media. Global warming only became a conventional term in June of 1988, when NASA scientist James E. Hansen referenced global warming in a presentation on climate change to congress. As the presentation was heavily reported, the term disseminated rapidly.
So, what do we make of the media’s preference for the term “climate change”? Answering this question requires that we delve into these terms a little more deeply. It also grants us the insight necessary to promote the forms of sustainable agriculture Hawaii needs.
Climate Change Vs. Global Warming
Climate change and global warming are often used interchangeably in the media. However, in the interest of promoting the sustainable agriculture Hawaii requires, it’s important to distinguish between them.
NASA defines climate change as “the long-term regional or even global average of temperature, humidity, and rainfall patterns over seasons, years or decades.” Global warming instead refers to the recent, drastic increase in the surface temperature of the earth. Global warming, therefore, is a form of climate change, specifically a change in global surface temperature. There is also a causal relationship between the two phenomena: global warming induces several forms of climate change, including rising sea levels, ice mass loss, agricultural changes, and extreme weather events.
It is likely that the media uses the term “climate change” more frequently because it encompasses a broader array of the effects of global warming. While the temperature of the planet is definitely increasing, it is hardly doing so by an increment at which we would feel those increases. Thus, “global warming” tends to register more as a concept than a tangible, dangerous, accelerating problem. Climate change, however, is a more tangible concept, as it is already wreaking devastation across the globe. In other words, climate change directly refers to the more impactful implications of global warming, like flooding in major metropolitan areas close to sea level or more frequent catastrophic weather events. By extension, it also captures the cultural and socioeconomic impacts that global warming will yield as lives, city centers, species, and artifacts are lost to floods and drought.
Scientists first anticipated the potential for global warming in the late 1800’s. They recognized that the Industrial Revolution would necessitate an exponential increase in the use of carbon dioxide producing fuels, like coal, oil, and gas. Assuming the drive to industrialize would only intensify as time progressed, scientists began to wonder if CO2 emissions would eventually climb to a level at which they would trap sunlight in the earth’s atmosphere.
By the 1970’s, scientists were not yet firm in their belief that global warming was an imminent threat. Global temperatures had been steadily increasing since the beginning of the 20th century despite the fact that the earth should have cooled. Greenhouse gas emissions had only continued to increase. Scientists were certain that human activity would begin to impact the environment in a significant way. However, they were not sure whether CO2 emissions would cause warming or whether industrial aerosol emissions would instead cause cooling. Throughout the 1970’s, as the rate of temperature increase rapidly spiked, it became clear that the effects of carbon dioxide emission would outweigh those of aerosol emissions.
Today, of course, the occurrence of global warming is incontestable. Some are reluctant to contribute rising temperatures to human activity. Indeed, earth has long witnessed fluctuating temperatures, entering intermittent ice ages or interglacials for periods of about 100,000 years. The recent, sharp increase in temperatures, though, does indicate that another force is at play in the equation—presumably greenhouse gases.
Climate Change and Hawaii
Climate change is likely to have a particularly devastating effect on Hawaii. The most significant impact of global warming thus far has been damage to coral reefs resulting from oceanic warming. Rising sea temperatures kill the algae upon which coral feeds for food. This lack of nutrition leads to “coral bleaching,” or die off. Die off, in turn, leaves coasts more vulnerable to erosion. By 2100, up to 40% of reef fish could lose their homes, devastating Hawaii’s $385 million fish economy. The rising acidity of the ocean, a result of increasing CO2 levels, will only compound the crisis.
The damage that climate change will reap on Hawaiian agriculture will also yield a serious economic impact. Global warming leads to increasing evaporation, which can cause heavy rainfall in some areas and drought in others. The effects of global warming on rain patterns are erratic and difficult to predict, but it is likely that local agriculture will suffer from intermittent droughts and/or violent floods. Furthermore, rising sea levels will intensify cliff erosion, high waves, tsunamis, hurricanes, and storms, all of which have the potential to harm plant life.
These climatic changes will, of course, significantly impact human and animal life. Rising temperatures currently allow mosquitos to travel to higher elevations and transfer harmful diseases to native birds. Global warming could further impact animal life by causing droughts that compromise their food supply. Storms and rising sea levels will damage houses and cities at sea level. Such damage would have a particularly devastating economic effect on Hawaii’s tourist economy, which derives primarily from low-lying areas like Kona.