Climate change haiku

Forty years from now / children will live in a world / shaped by our choices. This is just one of 19 poems by U.S. oceanographer Greg Johnson summarising the key findings of the latest report released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Last year’s IPCC report is over 2,000 pages long, full of dense scientific facts, predictions and models. Even the summary – referred to as a brochure – comes in at 27 pages. And while the contents themselves deal with some of the most pressing problems facing humankind, it is a daunting task to go through the material.

Which is where a geographer from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) steps in. Sick at home one weekend while poring over the report, Greg Johnson found himself turning some of the key findings of the report into haiku. The result is 19 poems that summarise the report into clear, concise and powerful talking points, writes Anna Fahey of the Sightline Institute, a Seattle-based environmental policy think-tank. Prompted by his artist daughter, Johnson then illustrated each haiku with watercolours.

Several of the haikus refer to the report’s finding that increased carbon dioxide emissions are behind global warming, rising sea levels and ocean acidification:

Big fast carbon surge: / Ice melts, oceans heat and rise. / Air warms by decades

Burning fuel, farming / Trap heat and sour the oceans / beyond human ken.

Johnson was lead author on the chapter of the IPCC report dealing with the effects of global warming on oceans, reports Reuters.

Others are almost a call to action, demonstrating that the choice lies with humankind to put the brakes on global warming, even the damage has already been done.

Arctic will warm most / and land more than sea – too hot. / Still choices matter.

Fast strong action will / reduce future warming, but… / rising seas certain.

Fahey calls the collection of haikus “stunning, sobering, and brilliant… stripped of jargon and unfathomably large numbers… it is an arresting and informative entrée into the science”. But it is not qualitative science, and Johnson is quick to point out that the poems are his own unofficial artistic interpretation and are not the views of the NOAA or the international team of scientists who wrote the report.

Johnson’s 19 illustrated haikus can be viewed online here.

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