Carbon Visuals is a multidisciplinary team that produces “concrete visualizations” of carbon data; their work exemplifies the increasing use of data visualization tools, and their representations are done incredibly well. What stood out to me immediately in the above youtube video was the relationship between text and visual representations. Text comes first, prepping the audience and providing a frame of reference that’s familiar, numbers: 54 metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2010, 2 tons a second, 75% of these emissions come from buildings. After these figures are presented (in a standard way) the video shifts the point of reference to a geometric space: one ton of carbon dioxide equals a sphere 33 ft wide. Then starts the animated representation of carbon dioxide spheres filling the spaces between NYC buildings.
Throughout the video – even at the beginning, when you’re still just getting the numbers in text form – you hear the sounds of NYC: truck and car motors, sirens, cars honking, tires screeching to a halt, people walking and talking, wind passing around buildings far above the streets, audibly moving wires and other materials ever so slightly. All the while, the translucent teal spheres continue to fill the space above the yellow cabs filtering through city blocks.
The video then cuts to to a pile of teal spheres representing the quantity of carbon dioxide emissions produced in an hour, then in a day (a pile reaching as high as the Empire State Building), and finally, over the course of a year. It’s a striking representation: simple and powerful. As their website declares, they’re leaders in the field of “visualizing the invisible.”
Carbon Visuals is also a spin off on Carbon Sense, a U.K. organization that works to make sense of climate change, much in the way that the Environmental Health Sense works to make sense of environmental health problems, though EHS does this less through projects that engage publics and more through analysis.