January 31, 2014

Chart of the Week: 63 years of global climate change

Many natural processes, from evolution to continental drift, happen so slowly that it took humans millennia to realize they were happening at all. By those standards, the global climate is changing quite rapidly — the average global temperature has risen about 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit since 1880, according to NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies. But people remain more focused on short-term weather events, which affect their lives immediately, than long-run climate trends.

But load more than six decades’ worth of temperature data into a 15-second visualization, as NASA has done with this short video, and the change becomes apparent. Reds and yellows show temperatures warmer than the mid-20th century baseline; light and dark blues indicate cooler than average temperatures.

NASA emphasized that, while “weather patterns always will cause fluctuations in average temperatures from year to year…the continued increases in greenhouse gas levels in Earth’s atmosphere are driving a long-term rise in global temperatures. Each successive year will not necessarily be warmer than the year before, but with the current level of greenhouse gas emissions, scientists expect each successive decade to be warmer than the previous.”

In a Pew Research Center survey conducted in October, two-thirds (67%) of Americans agreed there was “solid evidence” that the Earth is getting warmer, and 44% said human activity such as burning fossil fuels is the main reason. About three-quarters (74%) of those who said there is solid evidence believe it’s possible to reduce the impact of climate change.

However, actually dealing with global warming is a low priority for Americans: In a separate Pew Research survey, just 29% of the public said it should be a top priority for Congress and the president this year. And in our spring 2013 global attitudes survey, the U.S. ranked 33rd out of 39 nations in terms of how many people said global climate change posed a major threat to their countries: 40% of Americans said it did, versus a median 54% across all countries in the survey.

Category: Chart of the Week

Topics: Energy and Environment

  1. Photo of Drew DeSilver

    is a senior writer at Pew Research Center.


  1. Anton DeBaldier3 years ago

    Correction … 6 decades..not six years

  2. Anton DeBaldier3 years ago

    Some things are telling of a bias. Yes, bias because ignorance as an excuse is too often cited.

    This is a fine example of potentially bad sampling of periodic seasonal data. Unless at least 4 samples per 24 hour period were taken for the six years, the data is bad.

    Which six years were cherry picked?

    Next what about the since 1880 comment?

    Then the October thing was irrelevant.

    Bad science…bad journalism…low information voters.

  3. K G+Kastros3 years ago

    I already posted a comment @ I’m waiting to hear from you!

  4. K G Kastros3 years ago

    In 1937 , just about every child in the sixth grade ,in the state of Michigan ; was taught about global warming . The report ,at that time , reported the trend and predicted that ,” in two hundred years ,New York harbor would experience a rise of about FOUR FEET, of sea water . The report was taken seriously but dropped during WWII . After that , the big energy interests and others , spent a lot of money and influence to keep this away , from the public. The subsequent population increase and the fantastic rise and waste , of fossil fuel consumption , has accelerated this phenomenon ! K.G> KASTROS

  5. LE3 years ago

    60 years? I’d be impressed with 6,000. Maybe 600.

  6. N M3 years ago

    NASA are hardly an unbiased source (see Climategate emails, etc) so excuse me if I research the facts for myself rather than rely on a 15sec ‘factoid’ from a truly biased source.

    1. MNJ3 years ago

      What are these unbiased sources? Is there an alternate source of temperature records that you can plot the same way?

      Using the term Climategate just highlights your own heavy bias – that’s a fact. Which is opposed to NASA’s heavy scientific bias.