Human-caused carbon pollution is well on track to end the era of stable climate that has made modern civilization possible. But how best to illustrate that gravest of preventable existential threats?
The brilliant cartoonist Randall Munroe of xkcd has created a comic “Timeline Of Earth’s Average Temperature” that has deservedly gone viral, even getting a tweet from the likes of Tesla founder Elon Musk.
Climate change explained in comic book form by xkcd https://t.co/3tEfEnXW0L
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) September 13, 2016
Since Munroe, a former NASA roboticist with a physics degree, is generous enough to allow reposting (with credit), the entire must-read comic is below.
I have also tried over the years to come up with a graphic way of illustrate how we are destabilizing the climate. That was made easier in 2013 when Science published the most comprehensive “Reconstruction of Regional and Global Temperature for the Past 11,300 Years” ever done.
As the National Science Foundation explained, “during the last 5,000 years, the Earth on average cooled about 1.3 degrees Fahrenheit — until the last 100 years, when it warmed about 1.3 degrees F.”
Thanks to carbon pollution, the temperature is changing 50 times faster than it did during the time when modern civilization and agriculture developed, a time when humans figured out where the climate conditions — and rivers and sea levels — were most suited for living and farming. If we don’t slash CO2 emissions, then post-2050 we will have billions of people living in places that can’t sustain them — because it is too hot and/or dry, the land is no longer arable, their glacially fed rivers have dried up, or the seas have risen too much.
This is the chart ThinkProgress came up with (Celsius version here):
It needs a little updating, since 2013 was followed by the hottest year on record (2014), which was topped by the blow-out hottest year on record (2015), which is now being topped by the hottest year on record. Quelle coïncidence. Thanks to the Paris climate agreement we may finally be off the 9°F path and nearly on a 6°F path — but that will depend on many factors, including the outcome of a certain election….
Keeping warming below 3.6°F (2°F) — and avoiding the worst consequences — is both possible and super cheap. But we are a long, long way from that.
So it remains vital to come up with better ways of communicating the risks posed of rapid warming, which brings us back to the great (but not perfect) xkcd cartoon. Here it is in full. Enjoy!