Stripes Across My T-Shirt Transcript
There’s a famous graphic among climate alarmists called “Stripes” that shows, supposedly, how we’ve experienced unprecedented warming since the mid-19th century. Greta Thunberg put it on the cover of her new book, and posed in front of a poster of it for the book launch. It’s a good illustration of the principle that a picture is worth a thousand words.
Unfortunately, the words in this case are misleading. Alarmists love this chart so much that it’s available on all kinds of merchandise from shirts to mugs, hats, towels, and yes, a COVID mask for the double virtue signaler on your list, because it claims to show how it’s now scary dark red when it always used to be cool comfy blue. But there are three things about it that make it “propaganda” in the negative sense of that word.
First, it’s cherry-picked from near the bottom of a known natural cooling called the “Little Ice Age” and it depicts a natural rebound as if it were unprecedented and terrifying. Second, if you look closely at it, you’ll see that temperature has fluctuated even since 1850 in ways that CO2 cannot begin to explain. And third, if you do the same chart but pick a more meaningful starting point, it tells you the exact opposite of what they think it does.
For the Climate Discussion Nexus, I’m John Robson, and this is our “Fact Check” video on the “Stripes” graphic.
It is true that the world is warmer now than it was back when Prince Albert brought the Christmas tree to the English-speaking world in the mid-1800s. Virtually nobody disputes that, for instance, the snowy London Christmases of Charles Dickens’ time have faded away. But the crucial question is why. Did something unprecedented and unnatural happen starting around 1850? Or did something perfectly normal and cyclical get underway?
It's common for both sides in a debate, including this one, to accuse the other of “cherry picking”. And it’s a temptation that does exist and must be resisted. Including on the “Stripes” graphic, because if they picked almost any other starting point than somewhere in the Little Ice Age it would have shown that what’s happening now is not at all odd, certainly not unprecedented. So here’s what we did.
We first went back 2,000 years. We used a temperature reconstruction from the peer-reviewed literature that relied on a worldwide sample of high-quality proxy data, but specifically avoided using tree ring records to steer clear of the controversies around whether they are accurate at recording temperatures. And we picked 2,000 years ago not because of something odd about the climate two millennia ago that might skew things in a skeptical direction, but because it’s a round number that’s random with regard to climate. And what a difference you get.
We used the year 1908 as the base reference. So anything colder than conditions in that year is blue, and the colder, the darker blue, while anything warmer is red, and the warmer, the brighter red.
By the way CBS did a similar one but it incorporated Michael Mann’s hockey stick, so there was no Medieval Warm Period and, once again, it made it seem that something strange is happening today. In their account, we were heading slowly but inexorably back into a chill glaciation and then an amazing warming started around 1900. Which is already a bit suspicious from the alarmist point of view, because significant human emissions of GHGs don’t really kick in then. But it gets worse.
As you see, ours tells a different tale, in which the Little Ice Age was brutally cold but what we’re seeing today is just a return to Medieval Warm Period conditions, conditions that, whatever else they may have been, were not a time of climate crisis. They weren’t even a period of extreme weather; if anything the reverse is true. And certainly polar bears, coral reefs and other nice stuff didn’t go extinct at that time, nor did horrors swarm.
And in case you’re tempted to say yeah, well, what about the Black Death, please remember that it struck after the weather started to turn blue, causing crop failure, hunger and weakened human immune systems.
Still, Michael Mann says tut tut, no Medieval Warm Period. So, let’s take another starting date.
This time we went back nearly half a million years, again a nice round number to the human mind but basically random in climate terms, to avoid a tendentious starting point like, say, the peak of an interglacial warming period. And for this one we used the Vostok ice core record. Once again 1908 is the base year: colder is blue and warmer is yellow or red.
No cherries here. And not much cheer either. Instead, this one shows that for the last 500,000 years the planet has been dismally, depressingly, life-threateningly cold most of the time. You get these long periods of glaciation, with atmospheric CO2 perilously close to the level at which most plants (all those using C3 photosynthesis) die. And you get these merciful, but brief, “interglacials”, lasting perhaps 15,000 years before the wall of ice returns.
People speak casually of the “last ice age” ending around 14,000 years ago. But technically it didn’t: we’re still in an ice age, which is defined as an era with significant amounts of polar ice. The entire Pleistocene epoch [the video erroneously says era], the last 2.6 million years or so, is an “ice age” dominated by periods called “glaciations” when the ice spreads south over large parts of the continents. The warm periods are merely interglacials, and they’re not very warm by geological standards.
Also, it's important to note that the “Holocene” interglacial we’re in, there on the right, is not bright red. It’s pale orange. It’s not even as warm as the previous interglacial, the “Eemian”, let alone the one three back, just before 300,000 years ago. Yet once again, that period did not see mass extinctions or a runaway “greenhouse effect”. Instead, temperatures were a lot warmer than today’s “unprecedented” and supposedly manifestly unnatural ones, and yet it faded away in short order.
This chart is a huge problem for alarmists, because it shows that our once warm and lush planet has spent most of the last half-million years being worryingly cold and inhospitable to life. It also shows that the faint glow of blessed warmth very recently is nothing like as warm as during previous interglacials that did not see those fabled “tipping points” causing calamity, irreversible heating and climate “breakdown”.
Most worryingly, and not just for alarmists, it suggests that the little narrow orange band that we’re in now will soon, like previous ones, give way to truly scary dark blue, and that our big climate problem is natural cooling not artificial warming.
Earth is a strange and dynamic planet, much more so we think than most, with its huge moon, its life-giving tides and its complex, photosynthetic life. For most of its roughly 4.5 billion years it was mostly uninhabited and mostly uninhabitable, with several nasty periods of “snowball” conditions where not just the northern and southern portions but the whole Earth was engulfed in ice, or slush, or so we think. And from the name alone you’d assume the “Hadean” period was best avoided, though for contrary reasons.
Then about half a billion years ago the “Cambrian explosion” of multicelled life created something vaguely like today. So instead of looking back 500,000 years, let’s take a look back 500 million years.
Before we do, it’s important to note that we’re relying on temperature proxies rather than actual thermometer readings and it would, as Aristotle warned, be foolish to ask more precision of this topic that it can deliver. All we have is a rough approximation of temperature, but it’s the best we can do. And if it’s in any way accurate, oh my goodness what a surprise.
This time, because the record is very long and low-resolution, the baseline isn’t 1908, it’s the average temperature over the past million years. And as you can see, the past half billion years has generally been far warmer than today. Even that blue band around 440 million years ago is not a “snowball”, by the way. Had one of those occurred after the development of complex life, we probably wouldn’t be here today.
The next cool interval, from around 330 million years ago to 270 million years ago, was not as cold but lasted much longer. And note, given repeated alarmist claims of “unprecedented” conditions today, that those two are the only distinctly cold periods in the last half-billion years amid what has typically been a much warmer planet.
There’s a third one, way over at the right, slim and pale, where you see the latest glacial period, the Pleistocene that has lasted around 2.6 million years.
You get the idea?
Modern conditions are not unprecedented. But they are unusual… as in unusually cold, almost on any time scale. If the Earth were to return to its typical state, especially if it did it rapidly, it could cause all kinds of problems, from rapidly rising sea levels to plants and animals struggling to adjust. But while alarmists often conflate “bad” with “man-made,” they’re not related. If we did it, we did it, and if it’s bad, it’s bad. But one doesn’t automatically follow from the other.
Now, we invite you to do your own versions, starting practically anywhere. 58 million years ago. 58,000. Two billion. 20 million. We’re not scared. We know what it will tell you. The Earth’s temperature fluctuates constantly, often dramatically, and there’s nothing odd about it changing quickly today, or about where it actually is today, except that it’s much chillier than normal unless you deliberately start in the Little Ice Age while claiming no such thing ever happened.
There’s one more chart to show you, which is the lower tropospheric temperature record since 1979 from the University of Alabama in Huntsville. This time the baseline is January 2000, so warmer months are yellow and red and cooler months are blue.
At first glance this looks pretty alarming, as the entire post-2000 interval is solid red. But January 2000 just happens to have been somewhat cool. What if we pick January 2002 as the baseline, which was very close to the average temperature for the entire 1990 to 2020 interval? Then we get a very different picture.
This version doesn’t look like anything unusual is happening in the 21st century, though a couple of recent years were warm. So remember: it’s exactly the same data as before, we just changed the color scheme.
You see, if you’re into cherry-picking, there are lots of ways to make a cherry pie. Regardless of how you color the satellite record, it will show the recent years warmer than the early 1980s. But as you’ll know if you saw our video on big trouble in the tropical troposphere, the issue with satellite data that’s been causing grief for climate modelers is that it doesn’t show nearly as much warming as the models say should have happened. But that’s not something you can learn by looking at the stripes on a chart, or hat.
We mentioned at the beginning that the alarmist climate stripes picture is available on merchandise like t-shirts and coffee mugs and yes, hats. So we decided to do the same thing, and we now offer mugs and t-shirts of our own with stripe diagrams like the ones you’ve seen in this video. So, if you like our work and you want to support the channel, in addition to making a regular pledge, please go to our homepage at climatediscussionnexus.com, click on the Store link and order your very own, or better yet, order one as a gift for someone in your family who needs some cheering up.
For the Climate Discussion Nexus I’m John Robson and (to borrow a line from Johnny Cash) I’ve got stripes, stripes across my planet.