Visual reports on climate change

Each year, DensityDesign Labs is involved in design master degree’s final course at Politecnico di Milano. The course subject is the visual communication of complex phenomena (here you can find the course description and student works), and in the last two years, thanks to Tommaso Venturini, we focussed on controversy and their analysis.

During this year’s course, our students focussed on different controversies related to climate change. Each group created a visual report of their analysis, trying to identify the best visual model to give meaningful insight on the data collected. In the upcoming posts we’ll present some of their visualization.

Some of these could be useful suggestions for the second phase of EMAPS project, we’d like to know what do you think about it.

Here’s a short brief of each chosen controversy, and the links to their reports:

“Virtual Water” scientific debate

“Virtual water” is the volume of freshwater involved in the process of production of a product. If a country exports a water-intensive product to another country, it also exports water in virtual form. Our students analysed a corpus of websites and scientific papers identifying how involved countries talk about it.

“Environmental refugee / environmental migrant”

These are the two word used to describe a person that has to move from his/her home because of climate change. Students analysed mutual comparison in search of differences and common features. From the research came out the information expected. Medias use more the term “refugees” and maybe because of its impact on the feelings of the reader and its capacity to attract the attention to the fact that those people are forced to leave their homes. But under this use there is a lack of a broader view of the problem, favouring sensationalism to the detriment of the complexity of the topic.

Hydroelectric Power Dams

Starting from the Three Gorges Dam controversy students identified ten dams with the same features, located throughout the world, comparing the way each dam is discussed on the web. The geographical locations of the sources have been taken into consideration to make possible to create graphical view that would help to read better the data matched.

“Cape Wind” wind farm

The controversy raised from the proposal behind the project of the “Cape Wind” wind farm has shown its characteristics in a large part of the American web information during the last ten years. The plan of 130 offshore wind turbines to be built in Nantucket Sound has caused a large debate involving different parts of society, in particular from the local view of Massachusetts’s population, to the wide communications of the national communication networks.

Effectiveness of “Environmental Vegetarianism”

Environmental vegetarianism is the practice of vegetarianism based on the indications that animal production, particularly by intensive agriculture, is environmentally unsustainable. Part of scientific community however states that a diet without meat is unsustainable for humans, and that a vegetarian diet wouldn’t change our impact on environment. Students analysed web sources about the theme, identifying the network behind the controversy.

International funds for Pakistan Flood

The Floods that took place in Pakistan last year are considered as one of the worst natural disasters in recent history. Students started from a controversy about meteorological agencies, which didn’t make the correct forecast in advance and the government was slow to respond with relief operations, but focussed on the lack of donated funds. With digital method they tried to understand reasons of this, exploring complex relations that are established in the economic, politic and social fields when a natural disaster strikes.

“Coral Bleaching” scientific debate

Students started from the scientific controversy that arises regarding this issue: some scientists sustain that the death of the coral is inevitable and that we have to do something, while others are more optimistic; however the problem involves other levels of discussion, from the governmental to the economical one. Focussing on the investigation of the governmental scope, they analysed the web network identifying which other actors are involved in the debate.

REDD Program of reforestation

Deforestation is one of the main causes of atmosphere’s Co2 increase. REDD is an initiative of climate change mitigation that provides investment of funds in forest protection towards developed and developing countries. Funds management, fund receivers, human rights of indigenous people and the still unresolved question about ethical use of carbon credits represent just a glimpse of internal disputes to the program REDD. Students analysed geographically the web discussion, in order to understand countries’ voices and relations that occur in discussing these nations, and to finally confront every country about the on-going “REDD’s discussion”.

Australian “Carbon Tax”

Australia is the first CO2 pro capital producer in the world; in November 2011 the majority of the Australian Parliament headed by the PM Julia Gillard has approved the law that prices the CO2 emissions. This politic measure generated much controversy across the country: most of the population think this tax is just an excessive burden on the family outcomes, without a real help for the environment. Other people consider the carbon tax as the only resolution for a better and cleaner planet in the future. Students analysed the discussion on the web mapping Australian population’s positive and negative reactions with their reasons.

Antarctica eco-cruises debate

The Polar Regions are very sensitive environments, and growing numbers of cruise ships, taking passengers on ‘nature-based’ and ‘eco-friendly’ trips, put these regions increasingly under pressure. While they claim to increase the awareness over the climate change impacts on Antarctica, educating the tourist as an “ambassador” of the value of nature, researchers and environmentalists criticize their growing presence in the territory: more cruises means more risks for the ecosystem. Students compared the way scientific community and tourist promoters afford the topic on the web, giving insights on relations, words used and main sub-topics.

“Cascade Locks” controversy

Related to water consumption, students looked for controversy concerning tap water. They discovered that the controversy is not about the consumption, but about the production (the environmental impact of bottled water plant, the public access to springs, employment produced, etc.). There is a strong local debate about the balance between positive and negative impacts of the plant. Also, even if is a small, local controversy; it links to all other similar situation in the U.S., creating a complex network on the web.

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