The wet get wetter and the dry get drier

The other day, a reader asked why I call climate change "climate change", instead of "global warming". The short answer is that, from my perspective, climate change does a much better job of giving people an accurate mental picture of what is going on. Global warming sounds like the world is just going to get hotter, and while that's technically true on a global-average-temperature-basis, it doesn't really reflect what's happening locally.

And, frankly, what most people care about is the stuff that happens locally.

Today, Treehugger posted this NOAA video, which does a really good job of explaining one reason why a rising global average temperature can end up creating different climate change outcomes in different places. It's a great 4-minute primer on why "global warming" is more than just warming.

Via Chris Tackett


  1. I have a running joke with my family that the one thing that scientists did wrong was coin the term “global warming”. That doesn’t sound threatening to anyone. Everyone is moving to the SE and SW US as it is because they “hate the cold”. Why get worried about something that sounds like a good deal?
    Should have called it “Impending Global Weather-Pocalyse” or “Global Beach Front Property Valuation Destruction”.

    Even Climate Change sounds awfully benign.

    1. If you call climate change something scary, you’ll get dismissed as a humanity-hating Luddite fanatic.

      Generally by people who A) Will be able to afford to move where ever they want when the shit hits the fan, or B) are ideological lap-dogs who believe whatever the folks in A) tell them.

      * * *
      Warmer and wetter will be very, very bad for the western United States. Precipitation which formerly fell as snow in the Rockies (and Cascades, and the Coastal Range I imagine) will instead fall as rain. This means a less reliable water supply during the summer months.

      The Southwest will have to deal with the fact that it can no longer support water-intensive agriculture and a vast population of people who think green lawns and golf courses are a god-given right.

  2. Can’t find an article or video to prove it, but I could have sworn Bill Nye suggested “climate catastrophe” in an interview, to put an appropriate emphasis on the situation, instead of using the less frightening “climate change” or “global warming.” Maybe it was Jim Hansen or Bill McKibben?

    1. It’s like the difference between a storm “watch” “warning” or “alert”

      It’s a matter of degrees, really…

      When we get a massive methane-clathrate boil-over in the Arctic and the Greenland ice shield slides into the North-Atlantic, there will be no question of what “degree” of screwed we will be.

  3. I’ve often said that “climate disruption” is a better term. There’s always climate change happening, as the deniers like to point out. What we’re doing is disrupting the normal pattern of climate. “Climate change” is too neutral a term. “Climate disruption” is more emphatic and appropriately worrying.

    1.  Please explain the “normal pattern of climate” . From what I can tell there is no such thing…
      Normal as in….?

      1. Hi,  Sarahnocal,

        You might want to look up ” Köppen climate”.  He provides a solid and objective base for thinking and talking about climates. 

        Different parts of the world have different climates.  They vary, but they vary within limits.  For any given area both the human and natural world is already optimized (well, mostly optimized) for the way things have been for the last few millennia.

        If the climate starts shifting around rapidly you wind up being unprepared for it.  These means your crops don’t grow, roads and bridges fail, roofs cave in, pipes freeze, funky new diseases pop up that you’ve never had to deal with, etc, etc.

        Almost any change away from what you’re used to and prepared for (AKA “the normal climate”) will make trouble for somebody.

      2. Not normal as in some stable state, but normal as in naturally occurring (and largely predictable) patterns of climate oscillations, to which we’ve given an almighty kick. 

    2. I prefer the term Global Climate Change. A bit of change here and there may not be a bad thing, but change Everywhere? After a moments thought, most people start to see the problem.

      I do like Climate Disruption though, I think I’ll roll that one around my head for a few days, try it out.

  4. I like “Dangerous Anthropogenic Interference in the Global Climate System”. But I don’t suppose it will catch on.

  5. I prefer the term “environmental deficit” because it includes a bit of the idea of a legacy we’re handing down to future generations, and just may help convey to all those worried about financial deficits that this is way more serious.  

  6. Thinking about climate change is easy.
    You know how the past seems better than today?
    Well the future is going to be like now, and right now is going to seem pretty damn good.
    ie…if you think things are getting disrupted now, wait another 20 years.

    (Ironically that seems a lot like that Spaceballs scene.)

    Besides what always ticks me off is the fact that we can spend billions/trillions of dollar and tons of resources on piping oil around the country, yet the idea of moving water seems insane.  I mean we move it from a river to a city, but rarely ever from a city to a city or a state to a state.

      1. Yeah that’s true.  Us east coasters tend to forget about some of the stuff out west.  But even still that’s drawing from a fixed source of water.  I always think about the incoming hurricanes we get pounded with coupled with the seasonal thunderstorms that sometimes produce flood like conditions.

        Moving water on that scale would require some serious pipes, but considering relatively clean fresh water is falling somewhere, it looks like something society should consider.

  7. Amory Lovins (as in the Rocky Mountain Institute etc) once told me that he flavours ‘global weather weirding’ precisely because it will actually be big complicated mess.

  8. Speaking from what used to be the north of England, before it turned into a vast adventure park for frogs and waterfowl, yes, it will get wetter. We appear to have all your rain. would you like it back?

  9. I spent a decade working in community-based environmental education and, quite often, activists would scold me for using the term “climate change” over the (what they saw as more powerful) term, “global warming.”

    It wasn’t until I started talking about profound changes to weather patterns, the resulting floods, droughts, and freak weather patterns, and the major ecological and economic repercussions of these patterns, that they understood how much more applicable “climate change” was to the issue.

    Climate change indeed.

    1. As a Happy Mutant aside, I also toured a kids’ show about climate change.  Here, I play Dr. Gerald von Greenhaus, a world renowned climate change expert (and straight man to the very talented Cool Captain Climate).  Over the span of a half hour, I soon learn the many, many ways that we, as individuals, can lessen our climate footprint.  I also learn that I always wanted to be in show business.  And that I love to dance!  The soundtrack is a studio version of one of the songs I wrote specifically for the show.

      Start thinking in a brand new way!!!

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