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  • Isla Bailey

#ShowYourStripes: The UoR’s Message in the Fight Against Climate Change

Do humanity’s greatest innovations and achievements have a cost? Since the Industrial Revolution, the arrival of climate change has served as a major reality check for the modern population. A recent surge in climate-based research has resulted in work by the UoR’s own Prof. Ed Hawkins becoming the focus of popular attention, in both the media and the wider scientific community.

Warming stripes: climate stripes shown for Berkshire, from when records began in 1863, up to the latest data capture in 2022. The emergence of dark crimson stripes on the far right indicate a period of significant warming. Image credit: Ed Hawkins, University of Reading.

We have all, at some point in our lives, seen or experienced the effects of a warming planet. From the fires ravaging the Australian bush in 2019, to the decades-long Gaza water crisis, climate change affects us all. What many have yet to realise is that the devastation felt across species and ecosystems has a singular common cause - humans.

Climate scientists and academics are making a united attempt to both minimise our footprint and educate the masses on these crises. A flagship example of such an attempt began in 2018 - Ed Hawkins, Professor of Climate Science in the University of Reading’s Meteorology faculty, used billions of global average temperature data sets from the past two centuries to generate a unique pattern of stripes for different regions, helping us visualise the changes we’ve triggered.

Writing in The Conversation, Prof. Hawkins explains that the graphics “illustrate the global average temperature for every year since 1850 in the form of a coloured stripe.” He went on: “Shades of blue represent cooler years and red, warmer years. The overall effect is a striking trend towards hotter temperatures in recent decades, as a result of human-caused climate change.”

Reading Festival’s main stage in 2019 (©University of Reading News Archive).

In 2019, collaborating with the Institute for Environmental Analytics, he helped launch the #ShowYourStripes online database, which allows users to enter their location and download a unique stripe profile for their local region. Hawkins’s thinking is that accessibility of the message conveyed by his data is vital. He invites the general public to apply the data to where they live, perhaps in the hope that alarm bells will sound: “We hope that letting people see how temperatures have risen where they live and share this with others will bring home how climate change is an issue for us all…”

Hawkins’s climate stripes captured public attention after the launch of #ShowYourStripes, appearing on Reading buses, the cover of Greta Thunberg’s bombshell exposé The Climate Book, Reading Festival’s main stage and more. Spreading across social media like wildfire, awareness of humanity’s biggest threat to health and security is at an all-time-high. Crucial for the influence of opinions and mind-sets, the popularity of this simple design has sent shockwaves across platforms such as Twitter, Instagram, and global media networks. This has not only put the university on the map as one of the UK’s most sustainably-run institutions, but has condensed centuries of intimidating and inflammatory climate data into bite-sized snapshots. The culmination of this unique approach with the painstaking efforts of thousands of scientists can mean only one thing for our generation: we’re the first to recognise and understand the impact we have on our surroundings, for better or for worse.

A public Reading bus sporting Hawkins’s climate stripes (©Reading Buses)

The cover of Greta Thunberg’s ‘The Climate Book’ (©Penguin Publishing Ltd.)

The latest climate data from 2022 has introduced a dark red band to the majority of stripe patterns for global regions, dangerously close to a shade in the darkest red category. This has raised alarm among climate scientists, as this may be a warning for the return of El Niño, a pattern responsible for the abnormal warming of surface waters in the Eastern Pacific. A common consequence is a dramatic change in weather patterns and storm frequencies, devastating countries reliant on the fishing and agricultural industries.

The success of Hawkins’s stripes is owed to their ability to start conversations, both inside and outside of the academic community – after all, #ShowYourStripes users can see the effect of global warming where they live and download their unique stripe patterns to share with the world, at the touch of a button. Hawkins, writing in 2019, sums this up: “Infiltrating popular culture is one way scientists can help trigger a step change in attitudes that will lead to mass action. We face some difficult choices, but we still have time to make changes that will create a hopeful future.”

So what can we, as students, do to help? How can we further the understanding of and act upon the message seen in the stripes? There are a number of opportunities on offer in the student community:

The Doing #UoR Bit app enters you into prize draws in exchange for completing sustainable activities, and is a great place to look for local volunteering opportunities!

Further your knowledge of climate affairs and sustainable solutions on online short courses, with unrestricted access to those created by the University of Reading. These can be found on FutureLearn, LinkedIn Learning and UN SDG Learn.

Do your bit in reducing food waste in your local area, by downloading and using the 'Too Good To Go' app, to help save perfectly good meals and snacks from the rubbish bin!

Consider adopting any small changes to your lifestyle to reduce your carbon footprint – this could mean opting for second hand/sustainably sourced clothing over mass-produced ones (look for brands such as Patagonia), reducing your meat consumption, growing your own food, or anything else you can think of.

Educate and share with others what you’ve learned about climate science – becoming ‘agents of change’ for the planet is not a role to be taken on alone. 

Download your climate stripes for yourself. Use the drop-drown boxes to narrow down your continent, country, and county to generate your own unique pattern of bands.


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