Hand on heart, how many of you made it beyond the headlines of the IPCC report’s second instalment that hit the news a couple of weeks ago? Admittedly, the 18-chapter long document, written by 270 researchers from 67 countries and citing over 34,000 references, makes for a rather intimidating read. Besides, you might argue that the timing of the publication was not perfect. Who cares about academic papers when a mentally unstable dictator in Europe is about to start World War 3?
Still, a different product of scientific efforts, released almost simultaneously, has managed to attract considerable attention despite the unfortunate timing. The updated version of the ‘climate spiral’ developed by Professor Ed Hawkins from the National Centre for Atmospheric Science at the University of Reading in the UK has already gone viral, again. The professor has been searching for better ways to demonstrate and communicate the effects of climate change for a long time now. Judging by the online response to his latest instalment, it would appear that his efforts are paying off.
Visualisation is a powerful tool indeed! A graphic based on NASA’s GISS Surface Temperature Analysis version 4 (GISTEMP v4), an estimate of global surface temperature change, might sound incredibly dull. Yet mixing decades of data and historically observed changes with a simple and effective animated graphic does the magic. Perhaps because it is “intuitive, eye-catching, and different,” according to Hawkins himself.
Most importantly, the broad audience seems to get the message beyond the sleek presentation. It has already enthused an army of Redditors. Mostly, they admire the technique and the aesthetics of the graphic, but they are by no means oblivious to what it signifies. “Well, that went from neat to depressing real fast,” one netizen sums it up.
Effectively communicating climate change is an enormous challenge. Yes, campaigns like National Geographic’s classic one that turned polar bears into icons of climate change might get through to some on an emotional level. But what about the enormous wealth of data collected by diligent scientists worldwide? After all, there are those immune to cute and sad animals’ images and looking for academic evidence instead. That’s where Hawkins’ communicating skills come to the rescue.
“The latest IPCC report warns that we are rapidly moving past the window of opportunity to avoid the most destructive impacts of climate change,” says Hawkins, who might be one of the few who actually read the report. “I hope that presenting the latest evidence in a clear and accessible way will again encourage people to think about the course the world is on and how we can change that.”
Let’s help him by spreading the word/video.
 The original version went viral already in 2016, and a version was even used in the opening ceremony of the Rio Olympics that year.
 Even if the magazine went too far in drawing a definitive connection between climate change and a particular starving polar bear, as they did in December 2017.