climate change

[ klahy-mit cheynj ]
/ ˈklaɪ mɪt ˌtʃeɪndʒ /
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a long-term change in the earth's climate, especially a change due to an increase in the average atmospheric temperature: Melting glaciers imply that life in the Arctic is affected by climate change.


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Origin of climate change

First recorded in 1980–85
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023


What is climate change?

Climate change refers to a sweeping change in global climate conditions, including weather phenomena, temperature, and sea levels. It’s caused by an influx of greenhouse gases, mostly from fossil fuel emissions around the world. These gases trap heat in the atmosphere and change weather patterns, warming many areas of the globe and causing erratic season and weather events.

How is term pronounced?

[ klahy-mit cheynj ]

Where does climate change come from?

Starting in the Industrial Revolution and continuing today, the burning of fossil fuels (oil, natural gas, and coal) increased at a very high rate. Inventions like the steam engine, factory machines, and other mechanical products have largely been powered by fossil fuels over the last couple hundred years. In particular, the uses of vehicles like cars and planes have caused carbon emissions to skyrocket. The clearing of land for agricultural and urban development has also depleted plant life (plants reduce carbon dioxide concentrations) and produced more carbon emissions. The result of these carbon emissions is climate change.

The effects of climate change are numerous and varied, and will drastically change the conditions of human civilization over the next century or so. As glaciers melt from rising temperatures, sea levels across the world are rising, endangering coastal communities. Many animal populations are being affected by climate change, either by the depletion of their natural habitats or sensitivity to the temperature/chemical change in their environments. The change in Earth’s temperature has also created severe weather events (like hurricanes and superstorms) and seasonal shifts that disrupt crop cycles. Extreme heat as an effect of climate change will render currently inhabited regions unlivable for humans.

Despite the inevitability of some effects of climate change, there are many people who are working to ameliorate or combat the damage. Scientists continue to study climate change and possible solutions to its causes. Many also make ongoing efforts to recycle, decrease carbon emissions, and preserve natural habitats. Due to the global nature of climate change, many international communities have begun to work together to change their practices and reduce their carbon emissions. Much will be lost due to climate change, but the future is never certain, and the ongoing actions of some will hopefully have a positive effect on the fates of many.

Climate change is often used interchangeably with global warming but this use is subject to debate. Though global warming used to be the more popular expression among environmental scientists, climate change is now preferred because it encompasses effects beyond the rising temperatures around the globe. Global warming is often dismissed by climate change deniers, who, for instance, erroneously point to cold spells as evidence against the very existence of climate change.

Examples of climate change

“The effects of climate change will be economic, social, and environmental and will alter people’s lives in a myriad of ways that we are just beginning to understand.”
—Rosaly Byrd and Laurèn DeMates, HuffPost, December 2014

“Scientists believe we are adding to the natural greenhouse effect with gases released from industry and agriculture (known as emissions), trapping more energy and increasing the temperature. This is commonly referred to as global warming or climate change.”
—BBC News, November 2016


This content is not meant to be a formal definition of this term. Rather, it is an informal summary that seeks to provide supplemental information and context important to know or keep in mind about the term’s history, meaning, and usage.

How to use climate change in a sentence