Visualizing Climate Change—A Tall Order

It’s Climate Week NYC and hundreds of political leaders, activists, and representatives of various nations have gathered at the UN to address climate change. It’s also FridaysForFuture, and millions are again marching in a climate strike around the world.

In the HRM Planetarium, we help our visitors understand Earth as an entity in space, but with climate change, we must also help our visitors understand Earth as an entity in time. To visualize the rate of climate change over time, one need look no farther than this superb illustration by author, cartoonist, and uber-geek Randall Munroe, creator of the web comic strip XKCD and several books. Munroe created a timeline of the Earth’s average temperature since the end of the last ice age.

Just to see what the whole thing looked like laid out, we printed it as a banner. It came out to 12 feet in length, starting 22,000 years ago and projecting temperature trends to 2100. If you follow the dotted line all the way to the bottom, you’ll see that the last inch or so of the graph shows a leap in temperature that’s about a third as much as all the temperature change in the 11 feet 11 inches above. So. The next time you hear someone say, “Climate change? The climate has changed in the past and it’s going to keep changing! What’s the big deal?” You’ll be able to show them why it is, in fact, a very big deal.


Marc Taylor, Manager, Planetarium and Science Programs