The Climate Impact of Your Food

Climate change is a thing. And facing it will require a lot of our societies. But the longer we choose not to act, the more the impact will be felt by later generations. Consequently, across the world, young students have been walking out of class to shine light on an issue on which they, as children, have little direct impact. Yet. But what about us? The ones who can vote and make lifestyle decisions?

The BBC had a piece where, after soliciting questions from their readership, they answered questions. One question being, what can individuals do to reduce their impact. And while clearly individuals need to do more than one thing, one facet can be examining one’s diet. The article included this graphic on the climate impact of various food types, vis-a-vis greenhouse gas emissions.

Is this saying I should drink more beer?
Is this saying I should drink more beer?

Essentially we are looking at a simplified box plot of greenhouse gas emissions per serving of food (and drink) type. The box plot looks at a range of values for a specific item. It usually shows the extremes at both ends; the range of a significant number of the data points, e.g. 80% of the set, or by decile, or by quartile; and then lastly the average, be it mean or median. Here we have only low impact, high impact, and average impact. Presumably the minimum, maximum, and then either mean or median.

And it works really well. Chocolate is a great example of how on average, chocolate isn’t terrible. But certain chocolates can have far worse ramifications than low-impact beef, or average-impact lamb and prawns. And beef is well known to be one of the most impactful types of food.

From a design standpoint, I don’t know if the colours necessarily help. The average beef impact, for example, is worse than the high-impact maximum of every other food listed. But the association of green=good and red=bad  here has little value because by that logic, the average=gold beef should be red as it sits above the high-impact everything else. A less editorial choice could be made of say a light grey or blue and then have the bright colour, maybe still orange, indicate where the average sits on that spectrum.

I do like the annotations on the chart. It highlights particular stories, like the aforementioned chocolate one, that the casual, i.e. skimming, reader may miss.

I could probably do without the little food illustrations. But the designer did a good job of making them all recognisable in such a small space—far from an easy task. And being so small, they don’t really distract or take away from the whole graphic.

Overall, this is a strong graphic.

Credit for the piece goes to the BBC graphics department.

Maps as (Potential) Political Statements

Maps are tricky things. They are simplified means of conveying, often in two-dimensions, a highly complex three-dimensional object. An object that includes geological data, climatological data, human demographic data, biome data, and even geopolitical data. Consequently, any designer has to make decisions about what things to include and what not to include on a particular map.

Often times, a lot of things can be struck from a map. How often do you really need to explicitly see the tectonic plates? Climate regions? Plant hardiness? Even topographic figures? If you do not need to show them, omit them. Easy peasy.

One level, if you will, of data that is often difficult is that of geopolitics, or the placement of arbitrary lines on Earth that demarcate borders of sovereignty or authority. Everyone claims something. Alas, sometime those claims overlap. But if you are showing the world and a region in conflict, how do you show those borders? How would you, for example, show the limits of present-day Israel, it’s settlements, Palestinian territory pre-1967, Palestinian area of control today? Jammu and Kashmir (and China)? Abyei? The Senkaku Islands?

Well, last week, we got news from Ethiopia where the Ministry of Foreign Affairs published a map that, well, looked in part like this:

Where's Waldo? Not in Somalia.
Where’s Waldo? Not in Somalia.

And that map set off a minor row. The entire ministry’s website is now offline and the ministry apologised for not knowing how the map “crept” onto the site.

But it potentially illustrates someone’s beliefs on the true extent of Ethiopian rule. Because, to the southeast, along the coast of the Indian Ocean, that is the sovereign country of Ethiopia. Oddest about the map, it shows Somaliland, a breakaway region of Somalia internationally recognised by very few states, as an independent country.

On the other hand, I doubt whether this was truly a malicious plot. It contains at least two other substantial errors. Immediately west of Ethiopia proper is Sudan. The map ignores the new state of South Sudan (and the aforementioned disputed territory of Abyei). And then a bit further west is the Republic of the Congo. And that one is all messed up. There is, of course, a country called the Republic of the Congo, but it is a relatively small fraction of that reddish-pink shape and exists in the west. The remainder of the shape is one of the largest countries in the world—the Democratic Republic of the Congo, DRC. (Often times you will hear the smaller state, Republic of the Congo, called Congo-Brazzaville after its capital to distinguish between the two.) But since the DRC is one of the more powerful states on the continent why would the Ethiopian Ministry of Affairs want to start something?

And that’s why I think this is a minor dustup about nothing. But, it shows how acknowledging which arbitrary lines drawn on a map we choose to display can create tensions. And worse.

Credit for the piece goes to the Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

 

A World Without Addresses

I am always intrigued by the mental maps people create for themselves and the environments in which they live. (Try it yourself, draw a map of your day-to-day world. How far can your mind draw streets, neighbourhoods, landmarks, &c. without the aid of a Google Maps?) In this article from the BBC, a Sierra Leonean-Gambian journalist related how he dealt with the lack of a formal address system in the Gambia impacted his ability to do even the simple things like providing a mailing address on postal or banking forms. They provide a very large space for the individual to draw their home address on a map.

At the corner of the street south of the roundabout and between the police station and  open air car showroom.
At the corner of the street south of the roundabout and between the police station and open air car showroom.

But unlike my interest in what could you or I draw, this is practical. There is no other option than to be able to draw your neighbourhood. The whole article is well worth a read to help you…gain perspective on your surroundings.

Happy Friday, all.

Credit for the piece goes to Ade Daramy.

Britain Bombing in Eurovision

Last weekend was not only the Game of Thrones finale, but also the Eurovision final. For the Americans not familiar with it, it’s a part music, part theatrics competition between all European countries and then sometimes guest countries like Australia or Israel. The winner is chosen by the total number of points their act receives. The UK, as one of the largest countries in Europe, is one of the few countries that is guaranteed a spot.

But that doesn’t mean the UK performs well. Last weekend, the UK bombed. The winner, the Netherlands, scored 498 points. The UK? 11. But the UK has been terrible for years now. And unlike in American baseball, it’s not because tanking gets you coveted draft picks for new talent. The BBC charted the placement of the British entries since its last win in 1997, the height of Cool Britannia.

Consistently bad over the last several years
Consistently bad over the last several years

Design wise, I wonder about the horizontal movement of places. A top-to-bottom movement might make more sense. The labelling here is also a bit too much. My eye immediately settles on the black text for the years, as their tight spacing creates a dark field that overpowers the otherwise nice light blue–dark blue contrast in the graphic. Maybe the beginning and end years could have been labelled with some key intervals, say every five years?

Similarly, the use of the ordinal number over the cardinal on the right hand side puts more emphasis on the labelling than the graphic itself. Here, however, the designers wisely chose a grey for the text so as not to overpower the graphic. But I wonder if the use of a cardinal number could have reduced the extra bits of text at the end and drive more focus to the graphic.

Overall, it’s a neat graphic. But I think a few small tweaks could improve the design. Unfortunately for the UK, they are more than just a few small tweaks away from winning Eurovision 2020.

Credit for the piece goes to the BBC graphics department.

Bad Endings

Turns out I was not the only one to look at plotting the ratings of the final series of Game of Thrones. The Economist looked at IMDB ratings, but just prior to the finale on Sunday. They, however, took it a step further and compared Game of Thrones to the final series of other well regarded shows.

All good things…
All good things…

From a design standpoint, I’m not a huge fan of breaking the y-axis at 6. While the data action is all happening at the high range of the scale, that is also the point. Each show is at the top of its class, which makes the precipitous falls of Game of Thrones, Dexter, and House of Cards all the more…wait for it…stark.

I do like the shading behind the line to indicate the final series. That certainly makes it easier to differentiate between the final episodes and those that came before.

But again, I’ll just say, I like how Game of Thrones ended.

Credit for the piece goes to the Economist graphics department.

A Shrinking Illinois

Last week we looked at the data on Pennsylvania from the US Census Bureau and found the Commonwealth’s population is shifting from west of the Appalachians to the southeast of the state. That got me thinking about Illinois, one of three states to have experienced a decline in population. Is there a similar geographic pattern evident in that state’s data? (Plus, I lived there for eight years, so I am curious how the state evolved over a similar time frame.)

A lot more red in this map…
A lot more red in this map…

Well, it turns out the pattern is not so self-evident in Illinois as it is in Pennsylvania. Instead, we see small clusters of light blues across a sea of red. In other words, the population decline is widespread, though not necessarily extreme. However, it is notable that in the far south of the state, Alexander County, home to the city of Cairo, has seen the greatest decline in population since 2010, not just in Illinois, but in the entire United States (in percentage terms).

Unlike Pennsylvania, where the state’s primary city of Philadelphia is growing (albeit slowly), in Illinois the primary city of Chicago has seen its population shrink over the last several years. However, the counties south and west of Cook County have grown. Kendall County, where parts of Aurora and Joliet are located along with growing towns like Oswego and Plano, grew at over 11%.

The state’s other growing counties fall across the state from north to south, east to west. In the south the county containing the eastern suburbs of Carbondale has grown modestly. But for real percentage growth, one should look west towards Monroe County, a southern suburb of St. Louis, Missouri located just across the Mississippi River.

Then in the centre of the state we see growth in McLean and Champaign Counties. The former is home to Bloomington and Normal. While Champaign is home to the eponymous city as well as its neighbour, Urbana.

All in all, the pattern that emerges is that of urban/suburban vs. rural. With some notable exceptions, e.g. Cook County, the only growth in Illinois is in counties that have prominent cities or towns. Meanwhile, rural counties shrink—the aforementioned Alexander most notably.

Credit for this piece is mine.

Game of Thrones Ratings

No spoilers here, so don’t worry.

But Game of Thrones ended last night. And I might be in the minority in that I like the overall ending and direction of the plot. But, I will agree that it would have been better…executed (just a Ned Stark reference) if at least the final two series were full, 10-episode series. As it is, we’re left to ourselves to connect the dots between previous character actions and their current actions. It makes sense, but you have to really think about it. It could have been done better over time. Alas, time was the one thing they did not have.

Anyway, a lot of people think the final series was terrible. And the ratings on IMDB say just that.

Ratings dropping faster than a dragon falling out of the sky…
Ratings dropping faster than a dragon falling out of the sky…

Credit for the piece is mine.

Golden Buttered Popcorn

We are in the midst of basketball playoffs right now. And one of the teams participating is the Golden State Warriors. They are pretty good at this whole basketball thing. One of the reasons is their star player Steph Curry. And it turns out that he is an enormous fan of popcorn. So much so that despite the widespread focus on power foods and healthy eating and wellness lifestyle, he devours the stuff before matches. So much so that NBA minders had to remove it from his hands during an all-star match last year.

He agreed to a request from the New York Times to rank each stadium, from 1 to 29, on the best popcorn. But he then went further and suggested that he rank the popcorn on a five-point scale on five different metrics: freshness, saltiness, crunchiness, butter and presentation. Naturally, the Times agreed. And he prepared a dataset that the Times turned into this heat map.

He's so honest, his own stadium doesn't rank in the top five.
He’s so honest, his own stadium doesn’t rank in the top five.

The whole article is well worth a read for more insights into the player and his take on popcorn. I don’t know a thing about basketball, but if a player agrees to a request to rank stadiums based on their popcorn, but then goes further to create additional data that can be used to turn into a visualisation, he’s probably my favourite player. If only someone had asked this of Pedro, Nomar, or Big Papi back in the day. Here’s looking at you, Laser Show.

Happy Friday, everyone.

Credit for the piece goes to Steph Curry and Marc Stein.

Abortion by State

In case you did not hear, earlier this week Alabama banned all abortions. And for once, we do not have to add the usual caveat of “except in cases of rape or incest”. In Alabama, even in cases of rape and incest, women will not have the option of having an abortion.

And in Georgia, legislators are debating a bill that will not only strictly limit women’s rights to have an abortion, but will leave them, among other things, liable for criminal charges for travelling out of state to have an abortion.

Consequently, the New York Times created a piece that explores the different abortion bans on a state-by-state basis. It includes several nice graphics including what we increasingly at work called a box map. The map sits above the article and introduces the subject direct from the header that seven states have introduced significant legislation this year. The map highlights those seven states.

We've been calling these box maps. It's growing on me.
We’ve been calling these box maps. It’s growing on me.

The gem, however, is a timeline of sorts that shows when states ban abortion based on how long since a woman’s last period.

There are some crazy shifts leftward in this graphic…
There are some crazy shifts leftward in this graphic…

It does a nice job of segmenting the number of weeks into not trimesters and highlighting the first, which traditionally had been the lower limit for conservative states. It also uses a nice yellow overlay to indicate the traditional limits determined by the Roe v. Wade decision. I may have introduced a nice thin rule to even further segment the first trimester into the first six week period.

We also have a nice calendar-like small multiple series showing states that have introduced but not passed, passed but vetoed, passed, and pending legislation with the intention of completely banning abortion and also completely banning it after six weeks.

Far too many boxes on the right…
Far too many boxes on the right…

This does a nice job of using the coloured boxes to show the states have passed legislation. However, the grey coloured boxes seem a bit disingenuous in that they still represent a topically significant number: states that have introduced legislation. It almost seems as if the grey should be all 50 states, like in the box map, and that these states should be in some different colour. Because the eight or 15 in the 2019 column are a small percentage of all 50 states, but they could—and likely will—have an oversized impact on women’s rights in the year to come.

That said, it is a solid graphic overall. And taken together the piece overall does a nice job of showing just how restrictive these new pieces of legislation truly are. And how geographically limited in scope they are. Notably, some states people might not associate with seemingly draconian laws are found in surprising places: Pennsylvania, Illinois, Maryland, and New York. But that last point would be best illustrated by another box map.

Credit for the piece goes to K.K. Rebecca Lai.

Pennsylvania’s Population Shifts

Last month the US Census Bureau published their first batch of 2018 population estimates for states and counties. Pennsylvania is one of those states that is growing, but rather slowly. It will likely lose out to southern and western states in the 2020 census after which House seats will be reapportioned and electoral college votes subtracted.

From 2018 to 2010, the Commonwealth has grown 0.8%. Like I said, not a whole lot. But unlike some states (Illinois), it is at least growing. But Pennsylvania is a very diverse state. It has very rural agricultural communities and then also one of the densest and largest cities in the entire country with the whole lot in between . Where is the growth happening—or not—throughout the state? Fortunately we have county-level data to look at and here we go.

Some definite geographic patterns here…
Some definite geographic patterns here…

The most immediate takeaway is that the bulk of the growth is clearly happening in the southeastern part of the state, that is, broadly along the Keystone Corridor, the Amtrak line linking Harrisburg and Philadelphia. It’s also happening up north of Philadelphia into the exurbs and satellite cities.

We see two growth outliers. The one in the centre of the state is Centre County, home to the main campus of Pennsylvania State University. And then we have Butler County in the west, just north of Pittsburgh.

The lightest of reds are the lowest declines, in percentage terms. And those seem to be clustered around Scranton and Pittsburgh, along with the counties surrounding Centre County.

Everywhere else in the state is shrinking and by not insignificant amounts. Of course this data does not say where people are moving to from these counties. Nor does it say why. But come 2020, if the pattern holds, the state will need to take a look at its future planning. (Regional transit spending, I’m looking at you.)