This Friday marks the summer solstice—the longest day of the year, the kickoff to the hottest season, and a ritual holiday for countless past and present cultures.
For Ed Hawkins, a climate scientist at the University of Reading, the solstice also provides the perfect opportunity to raise awareness about human-driven climate change.
Hawkins is the lead scientist behind #ShowYourStripes, an interactive tool that enables users to generate colorful graphics representing over a century of temperature measurements. Colder years are color-coded blue, while hotter ones are red.
“For many years, I’ve tried to think about how we visualize and communicate climate change in a way which reaches people,” Hawkins told Motherboard in a phone call.
“This particular effort was simply designed to try and strip away all of that complex information that scientists tend to love talking about and make it as visual and as simple as possible, so that anyone could take one glance at it and instantly understand what was going on,” Hawkins said.
Last year’s incarnation of the #ShowYourStripes project was limited to global temperature measurements, but this newly-launched version can make charts for most nations on Earth, individual American states, and select cities such as Stockholm and Oxford. You can try making graphics for your country or region, or share the chart for global temperature rise.
Some climate scientists have also adapted the format to make their own provincial or municipal climate charts.
While all the graphics show a warming trend, there is a lot of variation in the temperature profiles depicted in each region. Nations in the Middle East show a dramatic recent warming spike, for instance, while the southeastern US states have more of a mixed palette.
“We often talk about the change in global temperatures, and politicians and scientists worry about it, but that’s not necessarily something that an everyday person experiences,” Hawkins said. “Relating it to how things are changing locally is far more powerful.”
Hundreds of thousands of people have downloaded the customizable graphics, according to Hawkins, and the charts are popping up in newscasts and on social media.
“The best bit is seeing all the creative ways people have taken these graphics and run with them,” Hawkins said. “What this does is enable people to start conversations about climate change which they wouldn’t have otherwise.”