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Weather vs. Climate

These two words, and their implications for our survival, appear on the news every day. We talk about the weather and climate as if they are the same thing, and this confusion explains why some people dismiss climate change when the weather is cold.

INCORRECT

  • Look, it’s snowing! Our climate is chilly today.
  • The weather hasn’t changed for over five hundred years.
  • How is the climate where you live this winter?

CORRECT

If you make a snowball and throw it, the recipient will become acutely aware of today’s weather and how it enabled you to fashion a (mostly) harmless weapon in seconds. Changes in the weather are visible out your window, and measurable on your outdoor thermometer. Climate changes over decades and centuries, not days. If you build a house at sea level today, you will need significant insurance because your house may fall victim to global climate change.

MORE TO KNOW

Climate refers primarily to a zone of the earth, and is a large-scale characterization of a condition; it used to refer primarily to the angle of the sun in regard to a large region. “How was the climate in Mesopotamia?” refers to general characteristics. If you wanted to know about the weather on a particular day in Mesopotamia, you’d have to go back in time.

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