This is the first of our new infographic section on the Plan A Academy where our data team shares some of the most interesting insights they come across in their journey through climate data, designed by our artists in-house.
Tracing back as far as – let’s say Galileo – communicating science to the public has been a challenging issue for scientists. Their findings are sometimes scary, often groundbreaking and always complicated – especially when it comes to climate change. This has not made for fertile grounds for science communication.
The media, as one of the main communication platform between the public, its leaders and expert voices in the field, has a share of responsibility. Improper coverage or oversimplification of research has created a gap between the reality of research and the perception of its findings. Of course, darker forces have been at play, financing disinformation and downplaying certain studies to sway the public opinion’s mind.
Nonetheless, even the most honest of scientists face the delicate balance between simplification and precision. The very phenomena they are trying to describe requires high-level jargon and daunting calculations. The high level of complexity coupled with oftentimes cryptic visualisations results in readers shying away from the actual information. The attempt to provide the reader with more information becomes counterproductive and one more person puzzled goes away from an article more doubtful than before its read.
This new series was triggered by an article called “A harmonised dataset of greenhouse gas emissions inventories from cities under the EU Covenant of Mayors initiative”. That is just the title. We were struck by the number of interesting facts and figures, but flabbergasted by the complexity of the read. We decided to do something about it and extract the most essential data stories hiding in research papers, satellite data, ground level research or any other scientific material that needs to be shared and understood in the briefest delays. We are proud to present the Plan A Infographics!
THE POTENTIAL OF DATA
Nowadays, data is fundamental to all steps of science. New ways to gather large amounts of information (the infamous “big data”) and deal with it have opened new possibilities for climate research. This new type of science does not present well like scientific public demonstrations of old. Complex predictive models, data correlation and anomalies, or advanced chemical analysis are more common than a public display to the face of the world. With the new capabilities in both gathering and processing data, humanity is equipped to understand and fight climate change. This example from the FAO’s Global Forest Assessment shows the flow of data and how it can be represented to convey meaning to humans that don’t like Excel.
Plan A, as a data-driven company, leverages climate data and analytics to address the gaps in climate finance. There is an indispensable need to bring information of climate change consequences to each and every last individual in a medium that can be understood. Open-source and publicly available relevant data should be fully tapped to empower each community to create a successful sustainable transition.
SPOTLIGHTS ON REALITY
Scientific measures, reliable numbers and data-driven approaches are needed now more than ever to understand planetary boundaries, fight and beat climate change. Leveraging the gigantic amounts of data we gather – be it from satellites, cities, experiments or modelisation – is one of the make-or-break challenges of sustainability. We now live in a time of such complexity that making sense of this intricate world is a step of its own. Even units are hard to understand. What is a tonne of carbon? what does a Terawatt even mean? Data visualisation such as the one below provides human references to better measure what the impact of a product. In our upcoming long form of this infographics, you will discover how fast fashion is consuming the world’s resource and piling up in our tips.
What is missing then from climate communication to a) convey accurately the situation and b) to successfully create action for sustainability? One thing is certain, people have changed, and so has science. Can the structures in-between them also take new, more adapted forms? Thankfully, a new wave of journalism has emerged, carried by talented designers and coders, more likely to add meaning to numbers and plots. This is the rise of data visualisation.
Climate science and research must empower the public to take action. We identified the need for transforming data-heavy plots and research studies into eye-friendly and pleasing-to-look-at infographics. The emergence of data visualization tools in recent years has given data geeks more flexibility in communicating their studies and results. In that sense, the recent publication of the “first Black Hole Picture” is a total success. This picture is actually a visualisation of hundreds of thousands of operations aggregated by a supercomputer and a PhD student. Two different stories, two different impacts. Stay tuned for more eye-pleasing, jaw-dropping and most importantly, thought-striking data visualisations!