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Faye Flam

Let’s Go Back to Calling It Global Warming

“Climate change” is vague and doesn’t convey enough urgency.

When the earth gets hotter, some places catch fire

When the earth gets hotter, some places catch fire

Photographer: Saeed Khan/AFP/Getty Images

As scientific terms go, “climate change” is lame. It sounds like something created by committee. And it’s hard to understand as a crisis when we also hear scientists talking about ice ages and other natural changes to the climate happening throughout earth’s history. “Global warming” is something people have worried about for years, though. It’s essentially another term for the same thing, but conveys a planet-wide danger.

There’s good evidence that global warming is exacerbating the wildfires raging in southern Australia, but when we call it “climate change,” non-scientists may well wonder what the connection is and how it could have been averted. Call it “global warming,” though, and it’s intuitively easy to understand that if the world is getting warmer on average, then of course some hot places will get even hotter, and eventually some really hot places, such as southern Australia, will go up in flames.