Mind Stretch: Randall Munroe, creator of xkcd

I’m a big fan of Randall Munroe’s work: It’s not easy to be both entertaining and informative. The illustration I bring you today certainly has some humorous elements, but the overall message is both sobering and timely, worth contemplating on the heels of another Earth Day.

Reading down the cartoon, you’ll be able to gather various interesting facts (dates of the domestication of horses, and of the disappearance of the land bridge between North America and Asia, etc.). On top of that, I have an important job for you.

Pay particular attention to the rate of change, demonstrated by the amount of side-to-side variation of the dotted line, when compared to the vertical distance covered. Probably the easiest way to see that, once you’ve looked through the whole graphic, is to start at the top again and scroll down, keeping an eye on how gradually the dotted line moves sideways, until it’s not gradual at all.

 

So yes, the climate has changed before. But never, apparently, as quickly as it’s changing now. This can’t really be a back-burner issue any longer, can it?

See more of Randal Munroe’s work here.

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2 thoughts on “Mind Stretch: Randall Munroe, creator of xkcd

  1. > > So yes, the climate has changed before. But never, apparently, as quickly > as it’s changing now.

    While I believe this is very likely true, I don’t think the claim is necessarily well-supported by this infographic. Near 16000BC there’s a box labeled “limits of this data”, that basically says “this data shows gradual change – if there were quick spikes, they’ve been smoothed over”.

    • Point taken. That’ll teach me to try to make a serious point with a cartoon! I think I can still say with some confidence that even if this current spike might eventually be smoothed out, it’s the spike we’re living in, and the one we need to figure out how to manage. I can’t take too much comfort in thinking about smoothed spikes from the past until I dig into the data and see how close they are in time to widespread extinction events….

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