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Global Warming Versus Climate Change: We Used to Have Winter

We used to have winterEditor’s note: This post is part of the Green Moms Carnival, which is hosted on our very own MC Milker’s blog The Not Quite Crunchy Parent. This month’s topic is global warming.

I recently assisted in a historical slide show of our small mountain community, and when this slide came up of the US Forest Service ranger station in 1931, a senior citizen who had lived in our valley since she was a  young girl said, “We used to have winter.”  This statement sent butterflies to my stomach, and it made me reflect on what my own grandparents used to tell me about winter. Their stories of trudging to school in several feet of snow always felt like old exaggerated tall tales, but were they?  What will we tell our grandchildren about winter?

When talking to children about what is happening to our seasons, I feel it is important to use correct terminology.

We really aren’t experiencing just global warming, but we are experiencing climate change.  The term “climate change” includes changes in weather systems as part of its definition, rather than simple “global warming”, which refers to the overall warming of average temperatures.

These terms are not interchangeable, and I believe that climate change more accurately portrays the long term crisis we are potentially facing. This issue in semantics may not seem important in the big picture, but I believe in equipping children with the proper terminology.  The Grinning Planet describes the difference between climate change and global warming:

Climate change is about much more than how warm or cool our temperatures are. Whereas “global warming” refers to increasing global temperatures, “climate change” refers to regional conditions

Even though the main threat right now is warming planetary temperatures, climate change can also mean global cooling…

It’s worth remembering that global warming is based on an increasing average global temperature. Some parts of the planet (such as the Arctic) are getting warmer much faster than other areas. It’s even possible that some regions could actually experience regional cooling at the same time the planet as a whole is experiencing global warming.

Climate change more accurately describes what is happening and what could happen if we don’t fix this problem now.  Global warming is more of a mainstream term, and yes, I sometimes err and use the terms interchangeably, but we owe it to our children to try to teach them accurate terminology for a problem they will be addressing in throughout their entire lifetimes. Let’s hope they don’t have to tell their grandchildren, “We used to have summers where we could go outside.”


  1. My youngest daughter recently turned four so friends were asking us what we were planning for the celebration. When I told people that we were thinking of visiting New Mexico so she and her six-year old sister could see snow, I kept hearing the same thing.

    Others: “Why do they want to visit snow?”

    Me: “They’ve never seen it before.”

    Others: “But it snows here every other year or so. Wait, when was the last time it snowed?”

    Me: “Not in Youngest’s lifetime. We had a sprinkling of it when Oldest was an infant.”

    Others: “Wow, has it been that long? You know, the weather is getting so strange.”

    This winter we’ve had several days that were 80+. Makes me worry what this summer will be like.

  2. The past couple winters here in Michigan were no big deal, I was convinced winter was gone. This year however wow, snow, snow, snow and then some.

    The weather is crazy. You never know what it is going to be like.

    I’ve seen snow on Halloween yet this year the kids didn’t even have to wear coats to trick or treat.

    We really are suffering through climate change.

  3. Jennifer,

    Thanks so much for participating in The Green Moms Carnival! I hope you’ll join us again.

    You raise a good point about calling it Climate Change rather than Global Warming. The next time we revisit this topic we’ll have to use that terminology. Perhaps it will help to counter the climate skeptics who have been leaving comments on our blogs talking about how the Earth is cooling down, not warming up!


  4. Thanks Lynn, I’ve been meaning to participate for months now. Finally got my act together!

  5. I’m constantly having this discussion with my husband… he pops up with “so much for YOUR global warming” when we had 21 days with snowfall in December (we’re in Oregon, on the valley floor, it doesn’t snow here). Then in the summer, when it rained way more than normal, with cooler than average temperatures and flooding, well he said the same thing.

    I’ve pointed out the connection between global warming and climate change. That climate change will bring with it all kinds of changes in weather patterns and natural disasters.

    He keeps joking that before long, those polar bears will be walking through our streets here in Oregon.

    I roll my eyes and proclaim, “Whatever”.

    Thanks for this post Jennifer, its a great reminder of what’s going on!

  6. I recently read a biography of George Washington. I was struck by the descriptions of the winters in this region. He was a land surveyor early in his career, and he had to complete his work by late fall – before he got completely snowed in! That sure doesn’t happen any more.

  7. Have you seen the pictures of Mt Kilimanjaro from twenty years ago versus today? When my dad hiked the mountain he told me that it was the only place on earth where you got to experience every single climate. Sadly, that won’t be the case much longer.

  8. this winter and this holiday at least here in the midwest i proclaimed its an over the river through the woods experience and very much like winter as i remember growing up — cold, white, volumes of snow … to me though our churn and our weather today has a feeling … a something isn’t quite right feeling

    nice to have you this carnival

  9. When I was growing up in Michigan, we ALWAYS had snow. This year my homestate is finally getting hit again in an old-fashion way, but it isn’t the norm. The norm means no cross country skiing. If what they say about the wet places getting wetter and the dry places getting drier, Michigan could turn back into the swamp land it once was.

  10. Thanks for the thoughtful post and the terminology reminder: “climate change” sounds so much more chilling (no pun intended!) than the unfortunately over-used “global warming.” We already have to say “we used to have passenger pigeons” and a number of other now-extinct species – I hope we can all do our part to help avoid adding more animals (and seasons) to this list.

  11. Even with climate predictions of global warming, I have been surprised that most of the recent winters where I live (in New England) have been consistently above average temperatures. That just doesn’t hold statistical value as a trend. This winter is a reminder that eventually things approach a mean. It is so cold and snowy this winter here. I am told that Arctic sea ice has suddenly grown this winter out to the same extent that it was in 1979 when global cooling was the big concern and that the polar bears have thus bought themselves at least a few more years.

  12. Sadly, we’ve been conditioned by the press to think that any variation in weather or a ‘bad’ storm means human-caused catastrophe. I have sobering news. There’s always variable weather and there will always be bad storms.

    With all this ice melting, I’m waiting for the sea levels to rise. How come I still have to walk the same distance to get to the beach? How come it was the same distance 100 years ago? How come a map of Florida in 1922 looks the same as it does today?

    When I don’t have to turn my heat on in October here in Massachusetts, then I’ll believe ‘global warming’. Until then, it’s 100% bunk.

    The press has done a good job of brainwashing people. The weather is here for all to see: trust your own observations.

  13. Climate change..IT IS a natural process. Your grandparents USED TO have winter then it changed now it is changing back….ALL part of Nature it is natural and nothing to get freaky over.

  14. Gene Callahan says:

    “What will we tell our grandchildren about winter?”

    That we still have a whole boatload of it? Jennifer’s idea of science is to rely on the fading memories of an old lady scared by newspaper headlines to judge whether the climate is changing.


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