Climate Change Charted As A Haunting Death Spiral

Around and around and around we go. When Earth will die, the scientists know.

March of 2016 was the Earth’s hottest month since 1880–the year when we started recording temperatures. And to make matters worse, it marked the 11th consecutive month in which that whole “hottest month” record was broken.


As the tires on your Prius were melting into rubbery puddles, University of Reading climate scientist Ed Hawkins crafted this spiraling visualization (spotted by CityLab) of 137 years of global temperatures using data from the U.K.’s Met Office.

Why a spiral? Hawkins calls the effect “visually appealing.” We’re inclined to agree, but might add that by essentially taking a line graph and twisting it around itself, Hawkins squeezed ~1,644 points of data into a captivating image with a single focal point–that, as a bonus, doesn’t require some ultra-wide monitor to parse.

Note how quickly the line approaches the 1.5° C barrier. At the 2015 Paris climate talks, UN leaders agreed to limit global warming to 1.5° C as a target. That metric isn’t random, it’s a critical threshold for our entire ecosystem, affecting issues across the board from the rise of our seas to our ability to grow food.

The visualization paints a bleak picture for our future. But if you really want to get depressed, consider that according to NASA’s measurements, we already broke the 1.5 degree barrier back in February.

Images: via Climate Lab Book

About the author

Mark Wilson is a senior writer at Fast Company. He started, a simple way to give back every day.