Climate Change Art

Climate change is a complex concept to understand, given all of the positive and negative feedbacks in the climate system that interact to affect global climate. The best way to illustrate climate change is by looking at annual average global air temperatures, and how they’ve changed over time. This is also a good way for artists to illustrate climate change – by looking at the changes in annual average global air temperature.

My first example of cool climate change art is these climate change stripe plots by Ed Hawkins, which have one stripe for each year that’s coloured to match the average global temperature for that year. You can create them for the global temperature, or for specific locations. Hawkins even has one for Toronto!

Toronto climate stripes

You can use them as badges or pins, or print them off as images for teaching purposes – they really show how temperatures have changed as you can see the shift from blue (cool) temperatures to warm (red) temperatures over the length of the record.

Anja Kollmuss has taken the climate strips and turned them into a climate sweater, knitting one row for each year of record, with the early years at the bottom (blue) and the present day at the neckline (red).

Anja Kolmuss in her climate sweater (photo taken March 2019 by Thomas Hodel)

Other people have taken the climate record from their region and knitted it into a tapestry – also called a “tempestry.” Each Tempestry has individual rows that represent the daily high temperature for one day, with January at the bottom and December at the top. A group of tempestries, then, shows the change in air temperature between years. This particular example was exhibited at the Schuylkill Center in Philadelphia, but originated with fabric artists in the Pacific Northwest.

Tempestries in Philadelphia

Other artists have gone even farther back in time, using air temperature records derived from tree rings and ice cores to knit scarves that have individuals row for annual air temperature, starting with the year 1600. In this particular example, the knitter used darker shades of red for every 0.1-0.3⁰C increase in air temperature. You can see that the climate didn’t change much since 1600 until the last bit of the scarf, where the reds become very red indeed to show recent warming.

The globally warm scarf

Of course, you can’t talk about climate change art without including XKCD’s popular cartoon “A Timeline of Earth’s Temperature,” which includes climate and societal changes over time, particularly the speed of recent climate change.

Climate artist Jill Pelto has a series of drawings in her portfolio that use climate change data. This one in particular plots air temperatures since 1880 and links it to the increase in wildfires.

Temperature change and wildfire since 1880.

I am blown away by people’s creativity in representing climate data. I think all of these approaches make the climate emergency more relatable to viewers than just an abstract list of numbers does. They can actually see the change in temperatures over time.

Let me know in the comments if you know of other science art that represents climate change.

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2 thoughts on “Climate Change Art”

  1. Wonderful article! I have been trying to connect climate and fire data in different nature journaling approaches. See some of them on my Facebook and or Instagram pages called Pyrosketchology.


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