What does "in history" mean?

The Age-of-Earth Ruler, where 1cm = 150 million years

This is a short post about time. Like distances in the universe, be they large (like the distance to the nearest star – 4 light years, or 40 trillion kilometers), or small (like the width of an average atom – a few hundred picometres, or less than a billionth of a metre), most people cannot comprehend the sheer enormousness of time. Climate alarmists and the media play on this understandable ignorance (especially at this time of year) by continually using terms like “in history” or “on record”, which are calculated to make people believe that a particular climate record has some great historical significance, and that therefore it carries weight in the argument about whether current climate conditions are unusual or “unprecedented”. Such weight is then used to justify drastic action to “tackle climate change” and tax our Western economies out of existence.

Climate records generally extend back 150 years or so, with the longest being the Central England Temperature record, which dates back to the mid-1600s. So I thought it would be interesting to put this in some kind of geological context. The earth is considered to have been formed about 4.5 billion years ago, so let’s make that period of time equal to a standard 30cm ruler – let’s call it the Age-of-Earth Ruler. How much is 150 years on that scale?

  • 1cm = 150 million years
  • 1mm = 15 million years
  • 1 micron (0.001mm) = 15,000 years
  • 10 nanometres (0.00001mm) = 150 years

So on that scale, 150 years equates to 10 nanometres, or 10 billionths of a metre. So “in history” or “on record” actually refers to a distance of about 50 atoms across at the very end of the ruler, yet we are constantly reminded by climate scientists, governments and media that this year or that year is the “warmest year in history” or “the warmest year on record”. A little perspective on these superficial statements is therefore essential when we are dealing with politicians who, like the public, have no understanding of scale – climate scientists however, should know better, but it is often only geologists who have that necessary comprehension of universal timescales.

Don Easterbrook, writing on Watts Up With That, shows a graph of a Greenland ice core derived temperatures for the last 10,000 years, which shows that the majority of that period was warmer than today (2010 ranks about 9000th):

Greenland ice core temperatures

But even this period is less than a thousandth of a millimetre on our Age-of-Earth ruler, and still cannot be regarded as significant.

Moral of the Story: be sceptical when anyone uses the terms “in history” or “on record”. Ask yourself, what does it really mean? Often the answer will be a big, fat NOTHING.


  1. The Loaded Dog says:

    Great Post Simon.

    It’s logical, well written and sensible…..thus it has no place in the AGW debate…

    Oh and further:-

    “Moral of the Story: be sceptical when anyone uses the terms “in history” or “on record”.

    Indeed, or if anyone strings the following words in a sentence:- “it’s consistent with climate change.”

    Those who use the above phrase should be asked to provide a weather pattern that ISN’T consistent with climate change.

  2. The graph gives a perspective on why the Viking colonies in Greenland failed then.

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