Randall Munroe’s xkcd comic tackles a range of popular science topics with an enlightening and humorous approach.
(XKCD via Wikicommons/rottadana/iStock)
Comic masterfully shows how climate has changed through time
June 09, 2017
For those seeking to deny the realities of climate change, there is a popular counterpoint. It is simple. It says, "The climate has changed before." It is a direct argument. And, it is difficult to refute. Thankfully, the amusing xkcd comic offers another visualization. It shows just how misleading this statement can be.
For the untrained, xkcd is the idea of Randall Munroe. He is a cartoonist. He also is a physicist and former roboticist for NASA. Munroe has a knack for humorously and insightfully illustrating complex scientific topics. He has dabbled across disciplines. He's gone from fun themes like time travel to foundational scientific concepts like DNA.
For this particular comic, xkcd tackled climate change. It looked back as far as the last glaciation. That is when Boston was buried under a mile of ice. Glaciers stretched towards Manhattan. Munroe traces changes in the Earth's climate up through modern times. Along the way, he tracks how the climate responds to melting ice sheets. He also looks at changes in the Earth's orbit. And he looks at changing ocean circulations. They are all relative to the average temperature of the late 20th century.
Munroe aptly shows what the statement, "the climate has changed before," actually means. As you continue to scroll down and down and down, it becomes obvious that past climatic changes progress slowly and incrementally. The sudden final veer to the right comes at the bottom of the graphic. It represents human-caused climate change. It is a stunning contrast to the otherwise minute changes.
NASA said last year that August 2016 was the warmest August ever recorded. That is over 136 years of recordkeeping. August 2016 actually wound up tied with July 2016 as the warmest month ever recorded. This is despite the fact that the seasonal temperature cycle typically peaks in July.
Brazil joined the Paris climate agreement last year. This added a dash of optimism to the foreboding data released by NASA. Brazil is home to the largest tropical rainforest on Earth. It has the fourth-largest emissions of any country to sign the agreement. It trails behind only the U.S., China and India. The U.S. has since withdrawn from the Paris climate agreement. Only three countries have not signed on. Those are Syria, Nicaragua and now the United States.
With these things in mind, take a scroll through time and check out Munroe's comic.
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