Climate Conscientious and Cheaper Cars

Sometimes in the course of my work I stumble across graphics and work that I previously missed. In this case I was seeking a post about one of my favourite infographics, but it turned out I’ve never posted about it and so I will have to rectify that someday. However in my searching, I came upon an article from the New York Times last year where they wrote about research from MIT that compared the carbon dioxide emissions—bad for the environment and climate—per mile to the average monthly cost of a wide range of 2021 vehicles. The important distinction here is that average monthly cost is not the sticker price of a vehicle, but rather the sticker price plus lifetime operating costs. (For their analysis, the authors assumed a 15-year lifespan and 13,000 miles driven per year.)

Why is this so important? It’s pretty simple, really. In the United States, vehicle emissions are the largest source of carbon emissions. And the vast majority of that is due to passenger vehicles. If we as a society want to get serious about reducing our carbon footprint, the biggest changes we need to make are reducing our amount of driving, moving more people into mass transit, or switching out people’s gas-powered vehicles for electric vehicles.

The New York Times turned their work into a really nice static datagraphic. It is static, so there is no real interactivity if you want to compare your vehicle to others. However, the designers did choose some popular models and identified some of the key outliers.

There are nice annotations here that double their effort as a legend here.

The designers group the cars, represented by dots, into colour fields. These do a good job of showing how there is overlap between the different types of vehicles. Not all hybrid and plug-in vehicles are cheaper or even less CO2 emitting than some gas-powered vehicles, typically your smaller compacts and hatchbacks. Each colour field is linked to a textual annotation that also functions as a legend.

That alone is very helpful in understanding the differences, subtle and not-so-much, between the types of vehicles. Later on in the article the designers also used a scatter plot of a narrower set of data to compare a select set of vehicles.

Oh, there’s your Tesla.

Here we can see that one cannot simply assume that all electric vehicles are cheaper long-term than their gas-powered compatriots. Here we can see that the Nissan Altima, whilst emitting more CO2, compares favourably with the Tesla Model 3 in both the long-term cost but also in the upfront sticker price.

Despite finding this article a year and a half late, we can tie this to current events in that President Biden’s climate bill creates tax credits for electric vehicles. While the bill is perhaps not as significant as many would like, it is remarkable for still being a lot of money devoted to reducing our emissions. And when it comes to electric vehicles, one of the key components is the creation of tax credits. These would help mitigate those upfront sticker costs of electric vehicles. Because whilst they may generally be cheaper in the long-run, you still need to put up more money than their conventionally-powered alternatives either as lump sums or down payments. And with interest rates rising, what you need to cover via an auto loan will become more expensive.

Overall this is a really nice piece. Should I ever need to buy another vehicle, I would love to see this as a resource available to the general public. Unfortunately it only compares 2021 vehicles. And it does make me wonder where my 2005 vehicle compares. Probably not too terribly favourably.

Credit for the piece goes to Veronica Penney.

The Great British Baking

Recently the United Kingdom baked in a significant heatwave. With climate change being a real thing, an extreme heat event in the summer is not terribly surprising. Also not surprisingly, the BBC posted an article about the impact of climate change.

The article itself was not about the heatwave, but rather the increasing rate of sea level rise in response to climate change. But about halfway down the article the author included this graphic.

It’s getting hotter…

As graphics go, it is not particularly fancy—a dot plot with ten points labelled. But what this piece does well is using a dot plot instead of the more common bar chart. I most typically see two types of charts when plotting “hottest days” or something similar. The first is usually a simple timeline with a dot or tick indicating when the event occurred. Second, I will sometimes see a bar chart with the hottest days presented all as bars, usually not in the proper time sequence, i.e. clustered bar next to bar next to bar.

My issue with the the latter is always where is the designer placing the bottom of the bar? When we look at the best temperature graphics, we usually refer to box plots wherein the bar is aligned to the day and then top of the bar is the daily high and the bottom of the bar the daily low. It does not make sense to plot temperatures starting at, say 0º.

In this particular case, however, the dates would appear to overlap too closely to allow a proper box plot. Though I suspect—and would be curious to see—if the daily minimum temperatures on each of those ten hottest days have also increased in temperature.

As to the timeline option, this does a better job of showing not just the increasing frequency of the hottest days, but also the rising maximum value. In the early 20th century the hottest day was 36.7ºC, and you can see a definite trend towards the hottest days nearing and finally surpassing 40ºC.

I do wonder if a benchmark line could have been added to the chart, e.g. the summertime average daily high or something similar. Or perhaps a line showing each day’s temperature faintly in the background.

Finally, I want to point out the labelling. Here the designers do a nice job of adding a white stroke or outline to the outside of the text labels. This allows the text to sit atop the y-axis lines and not have the lines interfere with the text’s legibility. That’s always a nice feature to see.

Credit for the piece goes to the BBC graphics department.

Turn Down the Heat

First, as we all should know, climate change is real. Now that does not mean that the temperature will always be warmer, it just means more extreme. So in winter we could have more severe cold temperatures and in hurricane season more powerful storms. But it does mean that in the summer we could have more frequent and hotter heat waves.

Enter the United States, or more specifically the North American continent. In this article from the BBC we see photographs of the way the current heatwave is playing out across the continent. But it opens up with a nice map. Well, nice as in nicely done, not as in this is actually nice weather.

Yeah, no thanks.

The only complaint most of my American readers might have is that the numbers make no sense. That’s because it’s all in Celsius. Unfortunately for Americans most of the rest of the world uses Celsius and not Fahrenheit. Suffice it to say you don’t want to be in the dark reds. 44C equals 111F. 10C, the greenish-yellow side of the spectrum, is a quite pleasant 50F.

And that can relate to a small housekeeping note. I’m back after a long weekend up in the Berkshires. I took a short holiday to go visit the area near that north–south band of yellow over the eastern portion of the United States. It was very cool and windy and overall a welcome respite from the heat that will be building back in here across the eastern United States later this week.

At least yesterday was the summer solstice. The days start getting shorter. And in about five weeks or so we will reach the daily average peak temperature here in Philadelphia. At that point the temperatures begin cooling towards their eventual mid-January nadir.

I can’t wait.

Credit for the piece goes to the BBC graphics department.

There Goes the Shore

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released its 2022 report, Sea Level Rise Technical Report, that details projected changes to sea level over the next 30 years. Spoiler alert: it’s not good news for the coasts. In essence the sea level rise we’ve seen over the past 100 years, about a foot on average, we will witness in just thirty years to 2050.

Now I’ve spent a good chunk of my life “down the shore” as we say in the Philadelphia dialect and those shore towns will all have a special place in my life. But that looks more to be like a cherished memory fading into time. I took a screenshot of the Philadelphia region and South Jersey in particular.

Not just the Shore, but also the Beaches

To be fair, that big blob of blue is Delaware Bay. That’s already the inlet to the Atlantic. But the parts that ought to disturb people are just how much blue snakes into New Jersey and Delaware, how much/little space there is between those very small ribbons of land land off the Jersey coast.

You can also see little blue dots. When the user clicks on those, the application presents the user with a small interactive popup that models sea level rise on a representative photograph. In this case, the dot nearest to my heart is that of the Avalon Dunes, with which I’m very familiar. As the sea level rises, more and more of the street behind protected by the dunes disappears.

My only real issue with the application is how long it takes to load and refresh the images every single time you adjust the zoom or change your focus. I had a number of additional screenshots I wanted to take, but frankly the application was taking too long to load the data. That could be down to a million things, true, but it frustrated me nonetheless.

Regardless of my frustration, I do highly recommend you check out the application, especially if you have any connection to the coast.

Credit for the piece goes to NOAA.

Toronto Keeps It Cool

Last month the Washington Post published a nice article that detailed the deep water cooling system that the city of Toronto, Canada uses to keep itself cool. For the unfamiliar, deep water cooling at its simplest means sucking up very cold water from the bottom of a lake or ocean or wherever you can get very cold water, and then pumping that inland to absorb heat before cycling it back.

Of course, for the longer explanation—and what makes Toronto’s system different—you should read the article. And for our purposes it includes some nice illustrations that diagram just how that system works. The screenshot below captures the basic process I just described, but there are additional illustrations that do a great job showing just how the system works.

Just look at those gloriously cool temperatures…

What I particularly enjoy about this style is how the illustrations of the building and similar are minimal and restrained. This allows the diagrammatic elements to come to the forefront, which is important to make the system understood.

Credit for the piece goes to Daisy Chung.

Philadelphia’s Wild Winters

Winter is coming? Winter is here. At least meteorologically speaking, because winter in that definition lasts from December through February. But winters in Philadelphia can be a bit scattershot in terms of their weather. Yesterday the temperature hit 19ºC before a cold front passed through and knocked the overnight low down to 2ºC. A warm autumn or spring day to just above freezing in the span of a few hours.

But when we look more broadly, we can see that winters range just that much as well. And look the Philadelphia Inquirer did. Their article this morning looked at historical temperatures and snowfall and whilst I won’t share all the graphics, it used a number of dot plots to highlight the temperature ranges both in winter and yearly.

Yep, I still prefer winter to summer.

The screenshot above focuses attention on the range in January and July and you can see how the range between the minimum and maximum is greater in the winter than in the summer. Philadelphia may have days with summer temperatures in the winter, but we don’t have winter temperatures in summer. And I say that’s unfair. But c’est la vie.

Design wise there are a couple of things going on here that we should mention. The most obvious is the blue background. I don’t love it. Presently the blue dots that represent colder temperatures begin to recede into and blend into the background, especially around that 50ºF mark. If the background were white or even a light grey, we would be able to clearly see the full range of the temperatures without the optical illusion of a separation that occurs in those January temperature observations.

Less visible here is the snowfall. If you look just above the red dots representing the range of July temperatures, you can see a little white dot near the top of the screenshot. The article has a snowfall effect with little white dots “falling” down the page. I understand how the snowfall fits with the story about winter in Philadelphia. Whilst the snowfall is light enough to not be too distracting, I personally feel it’s a bit too cute for a piece that is data-driven.

The snowfall is also an odd choice because, as the article points out, Philadelphia winters do feature snowfall, but that on days when precipitation falls, snow accounts for less than 1/3 of those days with rain and wintry mixes accounting for the vast majority.

Overall, I really like the piece as it dives into the meteorological data and tries to accurately paint a portrait of winters in Philadelphia.

And of course the article points out that the trend is pointing to even warmer winters due to climate change.

Credit for the piece goes to Aseem Shukla and Sam Morris.

There’s Water in the Basement

If you didn’t know, climate change is real and it threatens much of our current way of life. I don’t go so far as to say it threatens the extinction of mankind, because there are nearly seven billion of us and to wipe out every living soul would be a tall order. But, it could wipe out parts of our history.

If you didn’t know, the city of Washington in the District of Columbia was built on a swamp. Except, actually, it wasn’t. Most of the city was built on higher ground along the riverbank of the Potomac. True, there are low-lying areas affected by the tides and high water, such as the National Mall, but places like the Capitol were purposefully placed on high ground.

And that gets us to this article in the Washington Post. It takes a look at the impact of rising waters and flash flooding on the National Mall, home to some of the preeminent American museums. The article uses a map to show just how the museums are threatened by extreme weather events that will only increase in frequency as climate change ramps up.

Note the Capitol and the White House will both be fine.

The designer used colour to denote museums by their risk of flooding, and sadly there are several. But as the article describes, there are few short-term fixes that we can undertake to mitigate the risk of damage to the collections.

Credit for the piece goes to Taylor Johnston.

Protecting New Jersey’s Back Bay Communities

We’re back and there’s a lot to touch on this week. But first, as a prelude to some of the Hurricane Ida coverage, I wanted to briefly point our attention to an article in the Philadelphia Inquirer from about two or three weeks before Ida struck.

The article focused on the US Army Corps of Engineers proposal to protect the back bay areas of the South Jersey shore, i.e. the areas between the outer barrier islands and the mainland. The article chose a few graphics from the report to draw attention to some of the proposed solutions, e.g. massive gates, new levee systems, and wetland restoration.

I wanted to focus on a different graphic in the report. This functioned more as an illustrated guide to the whole suite of solutions available to mitigating flood and storm surge disasters. Because, in the future, rising sea levels will threaten coastal communities. And as we saw just last week here in the Northeast, warmer seas plus warmer skies increase the potential for storms with crippling deluges.

Image links to the report, not the article

The graphic shows how we can try to deal with surge waters from out beyond the barrier islands through to the back bay to communities inland both by protecting, adapting, and in some cases relocating.

All need to be on the table, because if last week showed us anything—not that many hadn’t been saying this for decades—it’s not just the bayous of New Orleans and Florida’s beaches that are at risk from environments and weather patterns altered by a changing climate, but even those areas more local (to the Northeast).

Credit for the piece goes to the US Army Corps of Engineers.

If You Can’t Stand the Heat, Cut Your Carbon Emissions Pt. II

A few weeks ago I wrote about the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) latest report on climate change, which synthesised the last several years’ data. If you didn’t see that post, suffice it to say things are bad and getting worse. At the time I said I wanted to return to talk about a few more graphics in the release. Well, here we are.

In this piece we have a map, three technically. In a set of small multiples, the report’s designers show the observed change, i.e. what’s happening today, and the degree of scientific consensus on whether humans are causing it.

It’s gotten hotter and wetter here in eastern North America

What I like about this is that, first, improved data and accuracy allows for sub-continental breakdowns of climate change’s impacts. That breakdown allowed the designers to use a tilemap consisting of hexagons to map those changes.

Since we don’t look at the world in this kind of way, the page also includes a generous note where it defines all these acronyms. Of course even with those, it still doesn’t look super accurate—and that is fine, because that’s the point—so little strokes outside clusters of hexagons are labelled to further help the reader identify the geographic regions. I really like this part.

I also like how little dots represent the degree of confidence. The hexagons give enough space to include dots and labels while still allowing the colours to shine. These are really nice.

But then we get to colour, the one part of this graphic with which I’m not totally thrilled. The first map looks at temperature, specifically heat extremes. Red means increase in heat extremes and blue means decrease. Fair enough. Hatched pattern means there is low consensus and medium grey means there’s little data. I like it.

Moving to the second map we look at heavy precipitation. Green means an increase and yellow a decrease. Hatched and medium grey both mean the same as before. I like this too. Sure, with clear titling you could still use the same colours as the first map, but I’ll buy if you’re selling you want visual distinction from the red–blue map above.

Then we get to the third map and now we’re looking at drought. Hatched and grey mean the same. Good. But now we have green and yellow, the same green and yellow as the second map. Okay…but I thought the second map showed we need a visual distinction from the first? But what makes it really difficult is that in this third map we invert the meaning of green and yellow. Green now means a decrease in drought and yellow an increase.

I can get that a decrease in drought means green fields and an increase in drought means dead and dying fields, yellow or brown. And sure, red and blue relate to hot and cold. But the problem is that we have the exact same colours meaning the opposite things when it comes to precipitation.

Why not use two other colours for precipitation? You wouldn’t want to use blue, because you’re using blue in the first map. But what about purple and orange, like I often do here on Coffeespoons? This is why I don’t think the designers needed to switch up the colours from map to map. Pick a less relational colour palette, say purple and orange, and colour all three maps with purple being an increase and orange being a decrease.

Colour is my big knock on these graphics, which unfortunately could otherwise have been particularly strong. Of course, I can’t blame designers for going with red and blue for hot and cold temperatures. I’ve had the same request in my career. But it doesn’t make reading these charts any easier.

Credit for the piece goes to the IPCC graphics team.

If You Can’t Stand the Heat, Cut Your Carbon Emissions

Earlier this morning (East Coast time) the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the UN’s committee studying climate change, released its latest review of climate change. This is the first major review since 2013 and, spoiler, it’s not good.

I’ve read some news articles about the findings, but I want to critique and comment upon some of the graphics contained within the report itself. This started going too long, however, so I think I will break this into several shorter, more digestible chunks.

And I want to start with the first chart, two line charts that lay out the temperature changes we’ve seen.

Going up…

One of the first things I like here is the language. Often we might see these or similar charts that simply state temperatures from the year 1 through 2020. One of the common reasons I hear from people that deny climate change is that “people weren’t recording temperatures back in 1 AD.

They would be correct. We do not have planet-wide meteorological observations from the time of Julius Caesar. But in the year 2021 we do have science. And that allows us to take other evidence, e.g. dissolved carbon dioxide in ice, or tree ring size, &c., and use them to reconstruct the temperature record indirectly.

And reconstruct is the word the IPCC uses to clearly delineate the temperature data pre- and post-1850 when their observed data set begins.

The designers then highlight this observed data set, broadly coinciding with the Industrial Revolution when we as a species began to first emit extra greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere. You can see this as a faint grey background and a darker stroke along the x-axis.

Additionally, the designers used annotations to call out the first main point, that warming in the last almost two centuries is far beyond what we’ve seen in the last two millennia.

The second annotation points to a bar, reminiscent of the range of a box plot, that exists outside the x-axis and almost embedded within the y-axis. This bar captures the range of temperatures reconstructed in the past 100,000 years. And by including it in the chart, we can see that we have just recently begun to exceed even that range.

In the second chart, we have the entire background shaded light grey and the whole x-axis in a darker stroke to remind us that we are now looking at the Industrial/Post-Industrial era. But what this chart does is do what scientists do, test whether natural, non-manmade causes can fully explain the temperature increase.

They can’t.

The chart plots the modelled data looking at just natural causes vs. modelled data looking at natural causes plus human impacts. Those lines and their ranges are then compared to the temperatures we’ve observed and recorded.

Since the 1930s and 40s, it’s been a pretty clear and consistent tracking with natural plus manmade causes. For years the scientific community has been in agreement that humanity is contributing to the rising temperatures. This is yet more evidence to make the point even more conclusively.

These are two really good charts that taken together show pretty conclusively that humanity is directly responsible for a significant portion of Earth’s recent climate change.

I’ll have more on some other notable graphics in the report later in the week, so stay tuned.

Credit for the piece goes to the IPCC graphics team.