we tell you the story of the “Warming Stripes”, the best chart to understand global warming

We saw them at the Elysée duringa government seminar it’s at a post-hardcore rock concert. Has fashion shows and in the latest IPCC report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. ON the face of the new Chilean presidentGabriel Boric and so on beer cans. Around the neck of a great financial leader and on climate march signs. ON a football shirt It is on cover of the latest book by activist Greta Thunberg.

We could go on and on this list: the “Heating strips “or “global warming belts” in French, have spread everywhere since their creation in 2018 by British climate scientist Ed Hawkins, 45. “I never imagined going to London Fashion Week or going to a shooting for a football shirt. It’s not on the list of normal activities for a climatologist.”, euphemizes. On the occasion of COP27, which will be held from 6 to 18 November in Sharm El-Sheikh (Egypt), franceinfo tells you the story of these highly successful bands.

In the beginning there is a child and a crochet “addict”. Ellie Highwood, a fellow scientist of Ed Hawkins, prepares a blanket as a baby shower gift for a colleague’s daughter. She decides to draw inspiration from a very common practice among “crochet”: do one line a day and use the temperature or the color of the sky at that moment to choose the color. “I was wondering what the global temperature series would look like on a blanket. And since global warming is often explained by comparing greenhouse gases to a blanket, I found it interesting to make the connection.”, he explained on his blog at the time. A few months earlier, another scientist, the American Joan Sheldon, had had a similar idea.

This is where Ed Hawkins comes in. The University of Reading (UK) scientist, co-author of the last two IPCC reports, has long been interested in how best to represent global warming. “I created visualizations that I thought were great, but nobody liked it”he jokes. His “Climate spiral” therefore he never went beyond specialized circles. A year after seeing his colleague’s cover, he took up the principle by simplifying the color code. In blue, the coldest years of the average temperature between 1971 and 2000. In red, the warmest years. The result clearly shows the warming observed in recent years due to human activities (consumption of oil, coal and gas, deforestation). Success is immediate: in a week, the Heating strips they are downloaded a million times on the site set up for the occasion.

How to explain such a success? Ed Hawkins attributes it to the beauty of these stripes and their simplicity (they are stripped of boards and numbers), which make them understandable. “for people who didn’t like math or science in school”. Scientist Mélissa Gomis, who worked on the graphics of the latest IPCC report as a member of the technical group, hails a very successful visual communication exercise. “They contain scientific data, but it is almost more a work of art. The goal is not to communicate the concept of temperature anomaly used here, it is to give the feeling of climate change”details this specialist in graphic visualizations.

“It is universal: the graph can be understood by a Nobel laureate in physics as well as by people far from science.”

Mélissa Gomis, specialist in scientific visualizations

to franceinfo

Easy to understand, the strips are also readily available, at all scales (world, country, city) and on any type of support. Ed Hawkins even came up with a version in which different climate futures are emerging based on our choices and decisions. Her colleague Valérie Masson-Delmotte doesn’t just use them in her presentations to the government or in schools. She often wears them as a scarf, a gift from Hawkins to COP26 in Glasgow in 2021. “When I take the RER, people call me for this scarf, they say ‘hey, it’s the climate barcode’, without knowing me”testifies the co-chair of group 1 of the IPCC. “It is quite rare for a scientific object to enter popular culture.”

Climatologist Valérie Masson-Delmotte with her scarf from

It is enough to push the doors of the Reading FC stadium, the professional football team of the city where Ed Hawkins works, to be convinced of this reality. The bands of the evolution of the local temperature are declined on the sleeves of the shirts for the 2022-2023 season of this club that plays in the English second division. The idea sprouted during a videoconference with the university. “I saw the stripes behind him. I thought it was a painting, but he explained what they represented.”recalls Tim Kilpatrick, Commercial Director of Reading FC.

It is he who proposes to display them on the shirt. “With the university we wanted this message to reach a new audience, in this case our supporters”, continues the commercial director. This choice is the most visible part of a series of decisions to reduce the club’s environmental footprint: photovoltaic panels, “climate” score for the different menus served at the stadium, recycled polyester jerseys …

Two Reading FC players, Shane Long and Tom Ince, on 8 August 2022 in Reading (England).  (JASONPIX / SHUTTERSTOCK / SIPA)

Fashion designer Lucy Tammam discovered the Heating strips thanks to a friend. The 39-year-old entrepreneur, who claims a “sustainable” and ecological approach, immediately wanted to make clothes. “My first goal is to make beautiful and ecological clothes. I also really like the idea of ​​using fashion as a path of activism and education”, confide via e-mail. Headbands are now available on dresses, scarves, scarves and coats. “Most of the reactions are positive, with people delighted to have discovered ‘Stripes’ this way “says the designer.

A fashion show by the Tammam fashion house on September 16, 2022 in London (United Kingdom).  (STEVE BEST / HOUSE OF TAMMAM)

Positive reactions, and then? The concrete benefits of Heating strips remain difficult to evaluate. “Millions of people have seen and used them. It is very difficult to say if it has caused any changes”, sums up Ed Hawkins. Rather, he sees his chart as a new tool “the toolbox” communicate e “start a conversation” on global warming. The British scientist tells as an American, who had covered his electric car with bandshas been able to trigger debates on the subject at motor shows. “I think it’s much more effective than getting a lecture on the subject. People are intrigued and ask questions.”assures the climatologist.

“It’s a way to talk about the climate in different social circles. This is generally what the climate community has to do: inspire that conversation in other circles.”

Ed Hawkins, climatologist

to franceinfo

To promote wide circulation, heating tapes are licensed free of charge. “People can use it and we can’t say no”, summarizes Ed Hawkins. Assure him he has no negative examples in mind, but the risk of greenwashing, that is to say their use by actors who are not very respectful of the environment to make their image greener, there is. For example, we can note that the Reading football club has not given up on renewing their range of shirts every season, a practice that encourages its fans to consume. Larry Fink, the all-powerful boss of the BlackRock asset management group, wearing a scarf in the colors of Heating strips in 2020, it announced in May the end of its short-lived support for climate-friendly shareholders, as noted The world.

Despite this blind spot, the approach has provided ideas for biodiversity advocates. Miles Richardson, professor of psychology at the University of Derby (UK), developed this summer “Lines of biodiversity” to account for the collapse of populations of mammals, birds, fish, amphibians and reptiles. “They range from nature green to gray, to represent the loss of color as species disappear. The world becomes grayer, more urban.”, indicates the person concerned. The data comes from the Living Planet Index of the NGO WWF.

The scientist embarked on this visualization because he regrets that biodiversity is “the poor relative of global warming, which is covered much more by the media”. Miles Richardson hopes his graphics will enjoy the same success as Heating strips by Ed Hawkins: “Both are environmental crises that ultimately threaten human existence.”

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