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April 6, 2014

The climate is changing: how about us?

Data, data, everywhere, and the brain did shrink,

Data, data, everywhere, and one could hardly think.

No Ancient Mariners these, but by 2013 some of the 209 lead authors, 50 review editors (from 39 countries) plus more than 600 climate science experts (from 32 countries) on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change may have felt this way. They were tasked in a multi-year effort to assess, evaluate, integrate and summarize some 9,200 peer-reviewed scientific climate-related papers published since the previous review six years ago.

This 2013 review is available online (www.ipcc.ch/report/ar5/wg1) and in book form March 2014 (see cover photo). This new volume has some 1,535 pages of data, tables, charts, graphs, figures and text. The Summary for Policy Makers (SPM) alone is 27 pages.

Its conclusions: “Warming of the climate system is unequivocal” and “It is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming.”

The SPM is almost a scientific cry for help, for action. Look! Look! See what may happen. Do something!

The science is clear: The climate is changing and humans are largely responsible. The risks and costs to our society are real.

Let’s look at one man’s attempt to distill and represent the essence of the report’s findings.

Dr. Gregory C. Johnson, an oceanographer and climate scientist living in Seattle, was at home nursing a cold. He decided to use water colors and the ancient Japanese art form haiku to succinctly capture the SPM in 19 water color paintings, each with three lines of haiku. With permission from Serena Larkin of the Sightline Institute (daily.sightline.org/ClimateHaiku) two of those images are reproduced here.

The first water color image is labeled, “Temperature Anomaly (Degrees C)” on the vertical axis, with “Time (YR)” on the horizontal axis. The last three decades are far warmer than any other in the 150-year temperature record. His three-line haiku follows the illustration highlighting some of the impacts already seen with more to come.

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