So, what exactly is climate change?

During some of your past discussions about climate change, you may have also noticed that many people refer to this phenomenon as “global warming”. Although global warming is, in fact, a correct name, because the global average temperature is rising, it is also easily misunderstood. This misunderstanding comes from the common mix-up of climate and weather.

While “weather” refers to the conditions of the atmosphere over a short period of time, “climate” considers how the atmosphere “behaves” over longer periods of time. [1] This means that a few extra-cold days does not negate the fact that the yearly average temperature of the planet is rising.

One problem with the term “global warming” is that if you don’t understand the difference between climate and weather, and you hear the term ‘warming’, you may assume that this means we won’t get any more winter storms or large snowfalls, when, in fact, climate change can contribute to more extreme weather in both summer and winter. [2] Part of the risk that comes with a changing climate is that we don’t know how the changes to our climate will manifest themselves on any given day, week, or even year. It could mean that, for the time being, winter storms will get even worse or that summers will get even hotter.

As you will hear about in the YouTube videos we link to later in this section, one of the biggest problems with climate change is that it is unpredictable and will not be felt in the same way across the globe. For example, while North America may get more winter storms, the region of sub-Saharan Africa could get significantly less precipitation. [3]

So, what exactly is climate change?

This first section will focus a little less on the law and a little more on the basic science of climate change because as you have probably already noticed when reading some of the other sections on our website, it’s hard to understand the law without first understanding a bit of the science it is attempting to regulate.

Take some time to watch the following YouTube videos to better grasp what is causing climate change and what it looks like around the world. By doing so, you will also learn what scientists are doing, both to better understand the phenomenon and to better predict how we may be able to fix it.

After this, you should have a more complete understanding of why strict environmental laws and regulations are needed to prevent even more damage.
  1. NASA’s HOT lecture:;
  2. PBS’s Climate Science: What You Need To Know:;
  3. National Geographic’s Climate Change 101:;
  4. NASA’s Analysis of 2016 Global Temperature:; and
  5. NASA’s A Year in the Life of Earth’s CO2:
If you want a more specific look at how Alberta’s climate may change due to climate change, check out this website: the Canada Climate Atlas which has maps and other graphics to help you visualize the projected impacts of climate change across the prairie provinces.
After looking at this atlas, what did you learn about the impacts of climate change facing your city or town?

<< Climate Change

Climate change on an international scale >>

[1] NASA, “What’s the Difference Between Weather and Climate?” (1 February 2005) online:

[2] Sonia I. Seneviratne & Neville Nicholls, “Changes in Climate Extremes and their Impacts on the Natural Physical Environment” (2012) A Special Report of Working Groups I and II of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change 109 at 126 online:

[3] Sonia I. Seneviratne & Neville Nicholls, “Changes in Climate Extremes and their Impacts on the Natural Physical Environment” at 167.




Climate Change & the Law

Lesson Plan: Fundamentals of Environmental Law
Lesson Plan: Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms
Lesson Plan: Tragedy of the Commons
Lesson Plan: Climate Litigation

Curriculum Connections


Join our new AlbertaEnviroLaws Facebook group to ask questions, participate in discussions and other online engagement. Please share this widely so that the high school teachers and students in your circles hear about this great new resource for supplemental online learning. AlbertaEnviroLaws Facebook Group