The Haunting Melody of Global Warming

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Jul 18, 2013, 8:00 AM EDT

It’s not easy to understand all the subtleties of climate change. We experience weather on a daily basis and have memories of longer-term patterns—it was a rainy spring last year, or there was a brutally cold winter a few years back. But over longer periods of time, it’s difficult to truly see what’s happening with our changing climate, especially because the change is slow compared to human experience.

And have no doubt, over time the global temperatures are warming. Our own daily experience fails us, and looking at a graph leaves a lot of people cold (so to speak). However, sometimes converting a simple graph into some different form of information can deliver the message far better, and more effectively, than dots on a page.

University of Minnesota undergrad Daniel Crawford did something very clever: He took surface air temperature data and converted them into musical notes, one for each year from 1880 to 2012, and played them on his cello. The result is, in a word, haunting:

Amazing, and eerie. Because the piece is short, it’s easy to hear how the average note gets higher and higher with time. In this music, because of the way it’s played and the notes themselves, it’s easy to associate the overall rising pitch to feelings of tension, fear, and escalation.

The odd intervals (difference between pitches) from note to note in the piece are also unsettling. The aspect that drills into me the most distressingly is how the final few notes are at a pitch that is disturbingly and clearly higher than the rest of the notes in the piece. That’s because the past few years have been the hottest on average since measurements have started being taken.

That’s why they call it global warming.

I think this is an effective tool to show people that our planet is changing, warming. This has ramifications, and they aren’t good. Loss of Arctic ice, animal and plant extinctions, increased number of and devastation by wildfires, and more. It’s way past time we take these issues seriously. Steps are being taken by the White House, but I hope these are just the very first tiny steps compared to what’s to come. We need to make sure to hold our governments accountable and make sure they take action. I hope this video helps get that message across.