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We are spiraling toward 2°C. As a Climate Reality Leader (Chicago2013), I’m pleased to feature this resource from the Climate Reality blog. (Rolly Montpellier ~ Editor for BoomerWarrior).

The steady rise of Earth’s temperature as greenhouse gases accumulate in the atmosphere and trap more and more heat is sending the planet spiraling closer to the point where warming’s catastrophic consequences may be all but assured.

That metaphoric spiral has become a literal one in a new graphic drawn up by Ed Hawkins, a climate scientist at the University of Reading in the United Kingdom. The animated graphic features a rainbow-colored record of global temperatures spinning outward from the late nineteenth century to the present as the Earth heats up.

Spiraling Toward 2°C

Spiraling Toward 2°C

“The pace of change is immediately obvious, especially over the past few decades,” Hawkins, who has previously worked with Climate Central’s extreme weather attribution team, wrote in an email.

The graphic is part of Hawkins’s effort to explore new ways to present global temperature data in a way that clearly telegraphs the warming trend. Another climate scientist, Jan Fuglestvedt of the Center for International Climate and Environmental Research – Oslo, suggested the spiral presentation.

The graphic displays monthly global temperature data from the UK Met Office and charts how each month compares to the average for the same period from 1850-1900, the same baselines used in the most recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

At first, the years vacillate inward and outward, showing that a clear warming signal had yet to emerge from the natural fluctuations that happen from year to year. But clear warming trends are present in the early and late twentieth century.

In the later, it is clear how much closer temperatures have come to the target the international community has set to keep warming within 2°C (4°F) above pre-industrial levels by the end of the twenty-first century. An even more ambitious target of 1.5°C (3°F) has increasingly become a topic of discussion, and is also visible on the graphic.

Michael Mann, a climate scientist at Penn State who created the famous “Hockey Stick” graph of global temperature records going back hundreds of years, said that the spiral graphic was “an interesting and worthwhile approach to representing the data graphically.”

He said that using an earlier baseline period would have better captured all the warming that has occurred, as there was some small amount already in the late nineteenth century.

Just how much temperatures have risen is clear in the first few months of data from 2016, its line clearly separated from 2015 — which was the hottest year on record — and edging in on the 1.5°C mark.

Every month of 2016 so far has been the warmest such month on record; in fact, the past 11 months have all set records, the longest such streak in the temperature data kept by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. (Each agency that keeps such a temperature record handles the data slightly differently, which can lead to small differences in monthly and yearly values, though the overall trend is in broad agreement for all such agencies.)

The record-setting temperatures of 2016 have seen a small push from an exceptionally strong El Niño, but they are largely the result of the heat that has built up in the atmosphere over decades of unabated greenhouse gas emissions — as the spiral graphic makes clear.

“Turns out that this version [of temperature records] particularly appeals, maybe because it doesn’t require much interpretation,” Hawkins said.

As global temperatures keep rising due to climate change, we have to keep rising up to take action. We have a collective responsibility to make the hard choices to help save the planet.

Republished from Climate Reality.


climate ironyRolly Montpellier is the Founder and Managing Editor of BoomerWarrior.Org. He’s a Climate Activist and a blogger. He’s a member of 350.Org (Ottawa), Climate Reality Canada and Citizens’ Climate Lobby (Ottawa). Rolly has been published widely in both print and online publications. You can follow him on FacebookTwitterLinkedin and Pinterest.

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  1. What a great Graphic Rolly! Anyone spending just a minute or two can see that we have been trending increasingly more quickly to a future with inhospitable temperatures for life as we currently know it.

    We require a great shift in behaviour to become more symbiotic with our planet. This has to come about on all levels.

    Emotionally, we must have a positive determination to change to cleaner technologies and live in a self-sustaining balance with all aspects of nature.

    Spiritually, we must find a way to accept all aspects of our own human species, and other animal species, as having an equal right to existence without interference or control by others that take away basic tenants of happiness.

    Physically, we must do all we can to make our home planet a tenable place for healthy existence. This means we must work with each other to do what is right for everyone.

    • Yes it is a good graphic – very realistic.

      The changes we need seem almost insurmountable. I said almost. The human species will adapt, likely not in time to save everyone but adaptation measures are already underway.

      We must focus more on our youth to get them ready for their future without freaking them out. They will face difficult times but then they may be more ready than we give them credit for. A friend of mine is starting a new program to reach kids starting at age 11. They will complete a training program to become youth climate ambassadors allowing them to speak to their peers about the solutions to climate change. We have to ensure that this upcoming generation is prepared to make the physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual leap you speak of.

      Thanks for your responses.

  2. a very sad comment, and I just read the article that confirms this… we will use all the carbon energy that will get us to 1.5 degrees C in the next 5 years at current rates…seems like humanity either is acting too late, doesn’t care about the future, or ……

    sad and dangerous world we have created and are creating….already islands being flooded, temps in the 50s C and maybe more uninhabitable regions of the earth….what kind of fights/wars will this create???

    • Dave – it is quite depressing to know that the downward spiral has already begun. I don’t see a way out of it. I often use this reference from Winston Churchill who said as he saw the forces of war gathering before WW II:

      “The era of procrastination, of half-measures, of soothing and baffling expedients, of delays is coming to its close. In its place we are entering a period of consequences.”

      That says it all.

      Thank you for your comments.


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