Compelling global warming visualisation reaches millions

Four elements of nature, fire, water, earth, and air

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A compelling climate change visualisation developed by a NERC scientist has communicated the rate of change caused by anthropogenic fossil fuel emissions simply to a huge audience and gained substantial global attention.

Ed Hawkins admits that at school, he was “rubbish at art”. But that has not stopped him launching a new art form. His ‘climate stripes’ allow people who go dizzy at the sight of a traditional graph to learn about climate change by observing temperature rises in a new and instinctive way.

Hawkins is professor of climate science at the University of Reading and at NERC’s National Centre for Atmospheric Research. An expert on climate variability over time, he is keen to grow public understanding of the Earth’s warming climate.

His response has been to create ‘climate stripes’, a more understandable way of seeing temperature rises through time than the old-fashioned line on a graph. They were first seen in 2018 at the Hay Festival, where a NERC initiative linked him up with the poet Nicola Davies to explain his research. He got the temperature records for Hay and displayed then as coloured stripes, ranging from blue for the coolest years through pink and a deepening red for hotter ones.

One advantage of the stripe display, says Hawkins, is that it can look good in any format, from wall painting to a social media post. Most recently, the stripes for Jersey have been painted three metres high along a wall on the island.

Hawkins says:

It has been knitted into scarves, painted on cars, and used as a big screen by a band at Reading Festival. People realise its power to convey climate change simply.

Last updated: 11 March 2021

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