Difference Between Climate Change and Environmental Change

Climate change and environmental change are two terms that are often used interchangeably, but they have distinct differences. Climate change refers to the long-term changes in the average weather patterns that have come to define the regions on Earth. On the other hand, environmental change refers to the changes in the environment, including physical, biological, and cultural changes, brought about by natural or human activities.

What is Climate Change?

The term "climate change" is used to describe the observable shift in weather patterns that has occurred throughout time. When we talk about climate, we're talking about the long-term average of the weather. Conditions including wind speed, humidity, and rainfall are included.

While shifts in climate have always been present, the term "contemporary climate change" is typically used to describe the temperature rises that have been seen since the middle of the 20th century. Since the 19th century, the average temperature of the Earth has risen by around 1.62 degrees Fahrenheit. Because of this temperature rise, ice sheets and glaciers throughout the planet are melting, and the oceans are warming. This climate change may also be to blame for the recent uptick in the frequency of extreme weather occurrences.

Causes of Climate Change

There are several causes of climate change. The Milankovitch cycles, solar activity, and shifts in atmospheric composition all have a role.

Atmospheric Composition

In terms of maintaining a comfortable temperature, some gases, namely greenhouse gases, play a crucial role. Carbon dioxide and methane are two gases that are well-known for their ability to trap heat in the atmosphere. It is well knowledge that when there is a substantial shift in the atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases, average global temperatures will shift as well. Throughout times in Earth's history when carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases increased, global average temperatures also rose.

Volcanic activity is one natural source of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. In general, longer periods of higher volcanism due to more active plate tectonics have been warmer than average due to an increase in greenhouse gases created by volcanic eruptions.

Human activity now accounts for the vast majority of the world's carbon dioxide emissions, making people the principal drivers of the most important climate change taking place today.

Milankovitch cycles

The velocity and orientation of Earth and the other planets shift somewhat as they circle the sun. Precession, obliquity, and eccentricity alterations are the three most common forms of variation. The rotation of Earth with respect to the sun is called precession. Obliquity refers to the axial tilt angle of the Earth. A changing climate is a result of all of these variables.

To provide just one example, the northern hemisphere is closer to the sun in its orbit during the winter when it is tilted away from the sun than it is during the summer when it is slanted towards the sun. This causes warmer winters and hotter summers in the south, and vice versa in the north. This is because of how the Earth's orbit currently looks. This will no longer be the case at some future date as Earth's orbit changes shape. There will be more extreme northern hemisphere seasons since it will be closer during the summer and further away during the winter.

As an additional point, the difference between the seasons in each hemisphere would be more pronounced if Earth's axial tilt was larger, say 30 degrees instead of roughly 23.5 degrees. More seasonal differentiation occurs at greater axial tilts (or obliquities). The Milankovitch cycles may be seen working in the rock record.

Solar activity

Solar activity, sometimes known as solar weather, is another factor that affects global temperatures. Space weather is affected by solar flares, which are caused by the sun's atmosphere. There seems to be a correlation between the occurrence of such occurrences and the 11-year sunspot cycle, during which the sun's sunspot count grows and decreases predictably.

Occasionally, this regular 11-year cycle is broken by a protracted interlude, extending decades, during which there is almost no sunspot activity. This kind of decade-long dormancy has typically coincided with global cooling. The Maunder Minimum, which started in 1645 and lasted until 1715, is a well-known case in point. The Sun's magnetic field was very stable throughout this time period, and so few sunspots appeared. This was the coldest part of the Little Ice Age, which lasted from around 1300 to 1850 and was generally rather chilly.

The recent decline in sunspot activity suggests the beginning of a new solar low era that might persist for another half century.

Changes in solar activity are not the best explanation for the modern warming trend. This is because, if solar activity is the primary source of current climate change, then Earth's climate should be cooling, not warming, in light of recent observations of solar activity.

What is Environmental Change?

The term "environmental change" can apply to a wide range of phenomena that alter the state of the planet's or a specific area's natural ecosystems. Atmospheric variables, such as temperature shifts, geological forces, such erosion and weathering and tectonism, and biological factors, like the introduction of invasive species, are all agents of environmental change.

Geological factors

Geology is crucial to the health of the planet. Volcanoes, erosion, and weathering are the three most significant geological processes that alter the Earth's surface.

New gases and minerals are released into the air and soil when a volcano erupts. Volcanic soils are exceptionally fruitful because of the minerals and nutrients that are introduced into the soil during the volcanic process. Volcanoes' gas emissions, including carbon dioxide and sulphur dioxide, can alter the chemical make-up of the atmosphere.

Volcanism is a direct result of plate tectonics. Likewise, it forms topographic features like mountains and valleys. Erosion from wind and water can be exacerbated when mountain ranges are generated by tectonic uplifting because of the resulting change in slope gradient. Erosion causes more silt and nutrients to reach waterways and seas. This may have long-term, far- reaching consequences for the local ecosystem. Erosion may alter an ecosystem by reducing the availability of nutrients.

Biological factors

Significant environmental change can also be triggered by the introduction of new creatures. This also covers alien creatures that have successfully invaded a new area. The introduction of yellow crazy ants to Christmas Island is a well-known example of an invasive species disrupting a native ecology and posing a threat to its native crab population.

As another illustration, consider the widespread dissemination of Argentine ants over the globe. Significant harm is being done to native ant populations, which play an important role in local ecosystems, by the rapid spread of these ants. When it comes to moulding the modern world and generating environmental change, humans are likely among the most significant creatures. The fast expansion of human-made urban areas has created a new biome and contributed to a worsening mass extinction crisis.

Similarities: Climate Change and Environmental Change

Climate change and environmental change both have a significant effect on life on this planet. They also are both mostly caused by human activity in modern times.

Differences: Climate Change and Environmental Change

The following table highlights the major differences between Climate Change and Environmental Change: −


Climate Change

Environmental Change


Climate change mainly relates to changes in atmospheric conditions.

Environmental change also involves other factors that don’t necessarily involve atmospheric processes, such as biological and geological factors.


Climate change is a subset of the category of environmental change.

Categories that include climate change.

Containment Level

Climate change is less contained than environmental change in general since human-induced climate change is a relatively new problem.

Environmental change has been a problem for a while.

Human influence

Humans have only been primary drivers of climate change for about the past century.

Humans have been major drivers of environmental change almost since the dawn of behavioral modernity in Homo sapiens.


Climate change and environmental change are two distinct concepts, each with its own causes, time frame, and impacts. Climate change is primarily driven by human activities and has a global impact, while environmental change can be caused by both natural and human factors and can have a more localized impact.

Understanding the difference between the two is essential for addressing the challenges that both climate change and environmental change present to the planet and its inhabitants.

Updated on: 04-Apr-2023


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