|A visualization of London’s natural resources – grass, trees, and water only – by Adam Nieman.|
In the policy world, statistics, percentages, and budgets on the order of millions and billions are routinely thrown around. But what do six and a half billion people, 957 tonnes per second, or three trillion dollars really look like?
Visual artist Adam Nieman
recently received attention from The New York Time’s Dot Earth Blog
for his illuminating scale models of hard-to-envision quantities such as the volume of oil being leaked
from the Deepwater Horizon wells, global carbon emissions as measured in “UN Building units per second,”
and the relatively small amount of air and water on Earth
Demographers and sustainability experts often warn about the increasingly smaller allotment of natural resources per capita, but few have illustrated that reality at such a human scale as Nieman does.
On a global level, Nieman’s work shows the tremendous population density of the world’s “urban island.” Over half of the global population now lives in cities, which is represented by the grey dot, just 616 km across in “Land-Cover Islands.”
Others seeking to improve quantitative visualizations include David McCandless of the site Information Is Beautiful. Among other things, McCandless has tackled the daunting task of accurately comparing spending in an age of trillion dollar budgets, with his “Billion Dollar Gram.”
Another group, the Dutch firm TD Architects, highlights the disparity between global demographics and the distribution of wealth with “Walled World.”
Nieman’s blog examines the confusion that often occurs at the interface between the political and scientific worlds. This confusion is amply demonstrated by debates over contentious issues such as budget priorities, population growth, and climate change.
Politicians often ask that complex problems be distilled into simple bullet points for speeches and policy documents. However, when it comes to problems of such complexity and scale, pictures like these may be worth a thousand bullet points.
Sources: New York Times, Reuters.
Photo Credit: “Green London (wide)” and “land cover islands” courtesy of flickr user JohnJobby.