It’s Clean Air Day in the UK. Air pollution interests me, partly as I worked in medical stats for many years, partly because I don’t want to breathe in a lot of crap, and partly because I don’t want my baby to breathe in a lot of crap. London is really bad, the worst place in Europe. Not Beijing, sure, but really bad, and it’s hard to imagine that Brexit will lead to anything but a relaxation of the rules.
Real World Visuals (formerly CarbonVisuals, who made the amazing mountain of CO2 balls looming over New York) have made a series of simple, elegant but powerful images about volumes of air and what they contain, and the volumes of air saturated with pollution which are left behind by one car over one kilometer travelled.
The tweet is accidentally poetic as it can’t accommodate more than the first four images, which leaves you on a cliffhanger with the massive stack looming behind the mother and girl. You know what it is but you can’t see its enormity yet.
The crowd visualisation of 9,416 dead Londoners as dots is not bad, though I like physical images of numbers of people, like this classic (adapted from http://www.i-sustain.com/old/CommuterToolkit.htm):
Here’s a picture of apparently 8-9000 people marching in Detroit:
All dead by Christmas. And then some.
You might like to compare and contrast with higher-profile causes of death, like terrorism.
We had guideline-bustin’, kiddie-stiflin’, grandparent-over-the-threshold-usherin’ pollution in London at the beginning of the week. This is fairly standard nowadays, sadly. It’s not quite so bad out where I live in the Cronx, but in town it’s the worst in Europe. At the same time, Cameron Beccario pointed out the Beijing effect in his wonderful globe of carbon monoxide levels – far worse than anywhere else in the world, though there are some petrochemical hot spots. I’ve praised this live viz before, but that was before I started having a pick of the week on my office door (then, when the door went, here on the blog), so I’ll mention it again. Nice.
Thanks yet again to Nathan Yau and flowingdata.com for bringing this to our attention. Researchers looking into air pollution at Berkeley’s Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management have taken complex data on the composition of chemicals in the air at some locations ranging from sylvan mountain idyll to hellish trunk road tunnel and sought to make the differences easier for the non-expert to spot. Did they use a graph? A video? Nope, they made it into sound. Now this is a very interesting approach, and one that has almost never been taken by scientists, although there are many examples of sound artists and electronic musicians turning data into sound from the “other side”. We are very early on in the evolution of data audibilization and it requires a lot of explanation to the newcomer (i.e. everybody) but it is quite rewarding to persist with listening and trying to work it out.
As a footnote, I found it hard not to think there is a heavy moral content to the choice of data and locations (not to mention the glib Rachel Carson-esque reference to birth defects without the need to cite the evidence), and we would expect to find this reflected in the aesthetic choices for converting data to sound, but actually these are quite value-neutral. And that deserves some praise. Few people who know me from the stats world would know that I used to make some sound art and electroacoustic compositions, so I appreciate how hard it is to present sound that doesn’t play to the gallery with cliches.