How Fast is the Planet Warming? One Picture Tells the Story

Unless you’ve been curled up like Rip Van Winkle this last decade,  you’ve heard the cacophony of voices clamoring about global warming. It’s hotter than ever! Global ice is melting, sea levels are rising! And today’s extreme weather is the first small glimpse of the chaos ahead! No, no, no! Don’t believe those self-serving scientists!  It’s all a massive hoax! Actually, it’s been cooling recently!

Since most of us don’t do our own global climate monitoring, we have to believe someone. But whom?

Even for those of us who are inclined to trust the consistent findings of national and international scientific academies, the countervailing claims can give us pause. How can we be sure that the world is really warming, or that the trends are all that alarming?

Well, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) has just helped us out in a big way. The WMO is the world’s most authoritative voice on the state and behavior of the Earth’s atmosphere, its interaction with the oceans, the climate it produces and the resulting distribution of water resources.  It’s been around for more than six decades, and has 191 member nations. And it’s just released a climatic review of the decade 2001-2010, and compared it to prior decades.

The report is chock full of fascinating and alarming findings about global heat, precipitation, ice cover trends, droughts and floods. But a single picture – actually, a single graph – tells you most of what you really need to know if you’re wondering how serious anthropogenic warming of the planet really is. Have a look:


The WMO has taken the planetary surface temperature records from all the most authoritative US and UK climate research institutions – including NASA and NOAA – and averaged them. Then, they’ve bunched them together by decades, to eliminate the inevitable ups and downs that happen from year to year. What emerges is a clear picture of what’s happening to our world – decade by decade. And when you consider the trajectory, it’s no wonder that scientists are so alarmed.

It’s why last week, more than 200 evangelical Christian scientists wrote to Congress with these words of warning: “Average global temperatures are at their highest level within the measurement record, and we are beginning to see indications of increasingly disturbed weather. For example, 2012 was the hottest year ever recorded for the contiguous United States, and it will go down as one of the most destructive and disruptive years in U.S. history: wildfires, drought, superstorms, and public health outbreaks.”

You’ve heard the words of warning, no doubt. Now you’ve seen the picture.

Thanks for reading, and may God bless you.

J. Elwood

2 thoughts on “How Fast is the Planet Warming? One Picture Tells the Story

  1. John Silvius

    I’m a scientific skeptic as relates to human induced climate change. I like the summarized data you have provided; but, as you may realize, we should always be cautious of y-axes without zero at the origin. Isn’t it amazing that this temperature parameter has apparently not varied even as much as 1 degree C in the 13 decades? How much of this change would you attribute to anthropogenic carbon? Meanwhile, we risk watering down the biblical call to stewardship of the planet while ignoring the fact that secular conservation orgs are using concepts like “stewardship” and “nature as a gift” while seemingly oblivious to the fact that both “stewardship” and “gift” require a higher authority…an Owner and a Giver. Your thoughts? See

  2. John Elwood Post author

    John Silvius:
    Thank you for your response to this post. We’re always glad to hear from readers, and particularly from academics and students. Keep digging, keep reading, and keep asking hard questions.
    I am curious about the basis for your skepticism. Do you have access to scientific research that refutes the well-documented consensus on anthropogenic climate change? I’ve read the blogosphere on this, but found no science. But as to the core facts, surely you don’t dispute that greenhouse gases warm the planet? Or that greenhouse gases are sharply increasing? Or that fossil fuel use and changes in land use are the dominant new causes of atmospheric carbon? Or that global surface temperatures are now also sharply increasing?
    I would refer you to summaries on this site that would clarify these questions:
    I would also beg you to read excellent work by the Christian Reformed Church that addresses the question “whom should we believe?” Here’s a summary of their exhaustive report, with further links to the source:
    But I would also ask you to reexamine the apparent comfort you seem to take in the idea that global surface temperatures have only increased one degree Celsius in 13 decades. You’ve noticed, no doubt, that half of that increase has occurred in three decades only, as carbon concentrations have shot up. But more importantly, you must be aware that the temperature spread from the depths of the ice ages to the peak of interglacial periods is only about eight degrees Celsius, and that it happens, on average, over about 100,000 years. Yes, God’s creatures can adapt to changes, but only if they happen much more slowly than the rate that we are driving them today. You are surely aware that most projections are for 3-7 degrees Fahrenheit of further warming in the current century. This may have happened before, sometime in antiquity, but certainly not during the time of human civilization. The risks to biodiversity are enormous. I would invite you to visit the Biodiversity category of this site to consider the impact on the rest of God’s creation.
    As a fellow Christian, I would also ask you to consider the testimony of evangelical scientists in their recent letter to Congress. It is powerful, and – to me – deeply alarming for anyone who calls the Creator “Lord.” Here’s the URL:
    Finally, I would ask you to consider carefully the idea of “skepticism” in the face of threats most likely to fall – at first, in any event – upon others. You will recall, no doubt, that Americans in the 1940’s were skeptical for a time about reports of the Holocaust; but few in Poland could afford their “prove-it” attitude. You will find, as we have, that virtually no one in the developing world denies the reality or seriousness of climate change. The teaching of Jesus in Matthew 25 warns us of taking lightly the sufferings of “the least of these my brothers,” and if he means what he said, the risks must be enormous.
    The Christian Reformed Church recently sent a delegation of leaders to Kenya to examine for themselves the impacts of climate change on the poor in East Africa. We sent home frequent posts about our shocking experiences of harm done to the poor. There was, of course, the occasional “skeptic” who attempted to rebut our testimony. One of our number sent back a respectful and deeply moving response titled The Privilege of Skepticism. I urge you to read it, and to prayerfully consider its message as you seek to follow Christ in this matter. Here’s the URL:
    Again, I thank you for caring enough to respond, and pray for God’s grace to you as you look closely into these matters.


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