Our warming planet, set to music

This is what climate change sounds like.

I like data. Charts, graphs, tables, spreadsheets: anything which communicates information is good in my book (although infographics can get wearing, I'll admit). But I've not before heard music which does the same job.

Via Grist's Jess Zimmerman, I've now seen the work of University of Minnesota student Daniel Crawford, who has composed a piece of music based on our warming planet. Give it a listen. It's entrancing:

In the composition, each note represents a year from 1880 to 2012. The pitch is set so that the coldest year on record is equal to the lowest note on a cello, and each semitone is equal to "roughly 0.03˚C of planetary warming". The result is a haunting atonal composition – but also one which steadily rises in pitch, finishing three octaves above where it began. Similar projects normally set the data being played to a scale, which makes it easier to listen to (here's Pi in the key of C Major, for instance), but it's appropriate that something as catastrophic as climate change should be set to music which is fundamentally unsettling.

Not so unsettling as the line at the end, though:

Scientists predict the planet will warm by another 1.8°C (3.2°F) by the end of this century. This additional warming would produce a series of notes beyond the range of human hearing.

In case you want to play along at home, the sheet music is here and an MP3 of the song is here

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

Photo: Getty Images
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Autumn Statement 2015: George Osborne abandons his target

How will George Osborne close the deficit after his U-Turns? Answer: he won't, of course. 

“Good governments U-Turn, and U-Turn frequently.” That’s Andrew Adonis’ maxim, and George Osborne borrowed heavily from him today, delivering two big U-Turns, on tax credits and on police funding. There will be no cuts to tax credits or to the police.

The Office for Budget Responsibility estimates that, in total, the government gave away £6.2 billion next year, more than half of which is the reverse to tax credits.

Osborne claims that he will still deliver his planned £12bn reduction in welfare. But, as I’ve written before, without cutting tax credits, it’s difficult to see how you can get £12bn out of the welfare bill. Here’s the OBR’s chart of welfare spending:

The government has already promised to protect child benefit and pension spending – in fact, it actually increased pensioner spending today. So all that’s left is tax credits. If the government is not going to cut them, where’s the £12bn come from?

A bit of clever accounting today got Osborne out of his hole. The Universal Credit, once it comes in in full, will replace tax credits anyway, allowing him to describe his U-Turn as a delay, not a full retreat. But the reality – as the Treasury has admitted privately for some time – is that the Universal Credit will never be wholly implemented. The pilot schemes – one of which, in Hammersmith, I have visited myself – are little more than Potemkin set-ups. Iain Duncan Smith’s Universal Credit will never be rolled out in full. The savings from switching from tax credits to Universal Credit will never materialise.

The £12bn is smaller, too, than it was this time last week. Instead of cutting £12bn from the welfare budget by 2017-8, the government will instead cut £12bn by the end of the parliament – a much smaller task.

That’s not to say that the cuts to departmental spending and welfare will be painless – far from it. Employment Support Allowance – what used to be called incapacity benefit and severe disablement benefit – will be cut down to the level of Jobseekers’ Allowance, while the government will erect further hurdles to claimants. Cuts to departmental spending will mean a further reduction in the numbers of public sector workers.  But it will be some way short of the reductions in welfare spending required to hit Osborne’s deficit reduction timetable.

So, where’s the money coming from? The answer is nowhere. What we'll instead get is five more years of the same: increasing household debt, austerity largely concentrated on the poorest, and yet more borrowing. As the last five years proved, the Conservatives don’t need to close the deficit to be re-elected. In fact, it may be that having the need to “finish the job” as a stick to beat Labour with actually helped the Tories in May. They have neither an economic imperative nor a political one to close the deficit. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.