Carbon Taxes

Last week the New York Times published an article about carbon taxes, looking at their adoption around the world and their effectiveness. It is a fascinating article about how different countries have chosen to implement the broad policy idea and the various forms it can take. And, most importantly, how some of those policies can end up blunting the intended effect of carbon emission reduction.

This, however, is about the print piece, because as I was flipping through the morning paper, I found the Business section had a world map above the fold. And we all know how I feel about big, splashy print graphics.

We could use some more green on this map
We could use some more green on this map

Here we have a pretty straight-forward piece. It uses a map to indicate which countries have adopted or are scheduled to adopt a carbon tax programme. The always interesting bit is how the federal system in the United States is represented. Whilst a carbon cap-and-trade deal failed in the US Senate in 2009, individual states have taken up the banner and begun to implement their own plans. Hence, the map shows the states in yellow.

There is nothing too crazy going on in the piece, but it is just a reminder that sometimes, as a designer, I love big splashy graphics to anchor an article.

Credit for the piece goes to Brad Plumer.

Arctic Chill

The Arctic air mass that has frozen the Midwest continues to spread and so today will be a tad chilly in Philadelphia. Yesterday, however, the Guardian had a piece that used data from NASA to show how the air masses over the Northern Hemisphere have been disturbed by unusually warm air.

The Arctic plunge.
The Arctic plunge.

One theory to how this all works is that the reduced polar sea ice means water absorbs summer heat instead of being locked in the ice. But then that heat is basically released come winter. (I’m oversimplifying this.) That warms the air, which disturbs the polar vortex. As the Guardian then explains, the destabilised air mass can wobble and spill some of its frigid air down into the lower latitudes. (It takes a little while because the polar vortex is in the upper atmosphere and the air needs to sink to the ground.)

Point is, bundle up and stay warm.

Credit for the piece goes to the Guardian graphics department.

Dry Heat Is Only Part of California’s Problem

Wildfires continue to burn across in California. One, the Camp Fire in northern California near Chico, has already claimed 77 lives. But why has this fire been so deadly?

FiveThirtyEight explained some of the causes in an article that features a number of charts and graphics. The screenshot below features a scatter plot looking at the temperature and precipitation recorded from winter through autumn every year since 1895.

The evolving California climate
The evolving California climate

The designers did a good job of highlighting the most recent data, separating out 2000 through 2017 with the 2018 data highlighted in a third separate colour. But the really nice part of the chart is the benchmarking done to call out the historic average. Those dotted lines show how over the last nearly two decades, California’s climate has warmed. However, precipitation amounts vary. (Although they have more often tended to be below the long-term average.)

I may have included some annotation in the four quadrants to indicate things like “hotter and drier” or “cooler and wetter”, but I am not convinced they are necessary here. With more esoteric variables on the x- and y-axis they would more likely be helpful than not.

The rest of the piece makes use of a standard fare line chart and then a few maps. Overall, a solid piece to start the week.

Credit for the piece goes to Christie Aschwanden, Anna Maria Barry-Jester, Maggie Koerth-Baker and Ella Koeze.

Global Warming and Harder Living

The weather in Philly the past week has been just gross. It reminds of Florida in that it has been hot, steamy, storms and downpours pop up out of nowhere then disappear, and just, generally, gross. I do not understand how people live in Florida year round. Anyway, that got me thinking about this piece from a month ago in the New York Times. It looked at the impact of climate change and living conditions in South Asia. Why is South Asia important? Well, it is home to nearly a billion people, a large number of whom are poor and demanding resources, and oh yeah, has a few countries that have fought several wars against each other and are armed with nuclear weapons. South Asia is important.

I ain't moving to Nagpur, India. That's for sure.
I ain’t moving to Nagpur, India. That’s for sure.

The map from the piece—it also features a nice set of small multiples of rising temperatures in six countries—shows starkly how moderate emissions and the high projection of emissions will impact the region. Spoiler: not well. It notes how cities like Karachi, for example, will be impacted as hotter temperatures mean lower labour productivity means worse public health means lower standard of living. And it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see how things like demand for water in desert or arid areas could spark a conflict between Pakistan and India. Although, to be very clear, the article does not go there.

As to the design of the graphic, I wonder about the use of white for no impact and grey for no data. Should they have been reversed? As it is, the use of white for no impact makes the regions of impact, most notably central India, stand out all the more clearly. But it then also highlights the regions of no data.

Credit for the piece goes to Somini Sengupta and Nadja Popovich.

A Wetter Midwest

Here in Philadelphia, I think yesterday was the first day it had not rained in over a week. Not that everyday was a drenching storm, but at least showers passed through along with some downpours and definitely grey skies. But what about my old home, Chicago?

Well, FiveThirtyEight turned to a longer-term look and examined how over the century the amount of rainfall in the upper Midwest has been increasing. We are actually looking at the same places the Post looked at a few days ago. But instead of political maps, we have rainfall maps.

This one in particular is weird.

Water water everywhere
Water water everywhere

I get why they have the map, to show the geographic distribution of the rain gauges that collect the data. And those are site specific, not statewide. But did the designer have to choose area?

We know that area is a less than ideal way of allowing users to compare data points. And as I just noted, a choropleth, even at say the county level, is out of the question. But what about little squares? Or circles? Could colour have been used to encode the same data instead of size? And then we would likely have fewer overlapping triangles.

I suppose the argument is that the big triangles make a bigger visual impact. But they do so at the cost of comparable data points across the Midwest. Maybe the designer chose the area of triangles because there were too few gauges across the country. I am not sure, but for me the triangles are not quite on point.

That said, the graphics throughout the rest of the article are quite good, especially the opening scatterplots. They are not the sexiest of charts, but they clearly show a trends towards a wetter climate.

Credit for the piece goes to Ella Koeze.

Warmer Winters

Philadelphia is expecting a little bit of snow today, 20 March. We should not be seeing too much accumulate if anything, but still, flakes will likely be in the air this evening. That made me think of this piece from just last week where the New York Times looked at the change in winter temperatures across the United States for the last almost 120 years.

Of course, I would be remiss if I failed to mention that climate change does not mean that temperatures always rise. Instead, while the general average trends upward, the curve flattens out meaning more extreme events on both the hot and the cold parts of the spectrum. (Actually, the New York Times covered this very subject well back in August.)

As a cold weather person, yeah, this isn't great…
As a cold weather person, yeah, this isn’t great…

Anyway, the map from the Times shows how the biggest changes have been recorded in the north of the Plains states. But the same general shift is subject to local conditions, most notably in the southeast where temperatures are actually a lit bit lower.

Credit for the piece goes to Nadja Popovich and Blacki Migliozzi.

Arctic Sea Ice Levels Continue to Decline

You may recall how over two years ago I posted about a piece from the New York Times that explored the levels of Arctic sea ice. It showed how the winter sea ice of 2015 was the lowest level ever recorded. Well last week the Times updated that piece with new data. And instead of the static graphic we enjoyed last time around, this time the piece began with a nice animation. It really helps you see the pattern, so you should click through and check out the whole piece.

Go hit play and you'll see the trend
Go hit play and you’ll see the trend

But this isn’t just a visually top heavy piece. No, the remainder of the article continues to explore the state of Arctic sea ice through a number of other charts and maps.

Credit for the piece goes to Nadja Popovich, Henry Fountain, and Adam Pearce.

Rising Tides, Rising Disasters?

One more day of Harvey-related content. At least I hope. (Who knows? Maybe someone will design a fantastic retrospective graphic?) Today, however, we look at a piece from the Economist about the rising number of weather-related disasters, but thankfully falling numbers of deaths. The piece has all the full suite of graphics: choropleths, line charts, and bar charts (oh my!). But I want to look at the bar chart.

A timeline of disaster causes around the world
A timeline of disaster causes around the world

I cannot tell from this chart whether there has been any change in the individual elements, the meteorological, hydrological, or climatological disasters. And unfortunately stacked bar charts do not let us see that kind of detail. They only really allow us to see total magnitude and the changes in the element at the bottom of the stack, i.e. aligned with the baseline. So I took their chart and drew the shapes as lines and realigned everything to get this.

My take
My take

You can begin to see that meteorological might be overtaking hydrological, but it is too early to tell. And that right now, climatological causes are still far behind the other two.

Credit for the piece goes to the Economist Data Team.

Credit for mine goes to me.

Alaskan (im)Permafrost

I woke up this morning and before breakfast I opened the door to bring in today’s edition of the New York Times. I enjoy reading the paper, or at least a few articles, over breakfast (and more often than not preparing a post for here at Coffeespoons.me). Some of the best days are when I open the door and find a giant piece of data visualisation there above the fold. Other images, for example the other day’s eclipse coverage, also strike me, but as someone who visualises data as part of his career, I particularly enjoy things like maps. (I should point out I also do editorial design, so things like this layout are even closer to the intersection of my interests.)

Lo and behold, this morning I opened the door and we had the shrinking permafrost of Alaska this morning.

Now that is basically it. I have a crop of the map at the end here, but the map was the extent of the data visualisation in the article. Indeed, other articles in today’s edition carried more interesting graphics—I took photos to hopefully circle back—but the nerd I am, I really do get a kick finding a paper like this in the morning.

The graphic itself occupies half the space above the fold and the bright cyan and magenta steal the user’s attention. Even the headlines of the other articles recede behind the Alaska maps.

White space around the maps subtly helps focus attention on the piece. To be fair, the shape of Alaska with its archipelagos and bays along with the southeast extension help to create that space. A more squarish shape, say Colorado, would not quite have the same effect.

If I had to critique anything, I might have placed the city labels, especially Fairbanks, and the state label elsewhere to enhance their legibility. But at that point, I’m really just quibbling around the edges.

Red means it's warming up
Red means it’s warming up

Credit for the piece goes to Jeremy White.

Shifting Temperatures

This past weekend, I came upon a neat little graphic in the New York Times supporting an article about the impact of climate change on temperatures. The article basically lays out the argument that summers are getting hotter. And as a cold-weather person, that is dreadful news.

Can we not shift a wee bit the other way please?
Can we not shift a wee bit the other way please?

But the good news is the graphic was well done. It uses the outline of the baseline data as a constant juxtaposition against the date interval examined. And the colour breaks remain in place to show that compared to what we consider “normal”, we are seeing a shift to the higher end of the spectrum.

Credit for the piece goes to the New York Times graphics department.