Nathan Troutman Blumenshine
The world is ready to take on climate change. Millions of individuals are taking personal initiative to combat climate change by reducing their C02 emissions or influencing politicians to enact widespread climate change solutions. Climate change is no longer just an academic issue, an interesting phenomenon or too shocking to accept, it is a challenge for all humanity to struggle against. It is the role of the cartographic community to aid this movement by displaying climate change information in a way that is accurate, motivating, and useful.
The following are maps that show human activity taking on the challenge of climate change. A major difficulty in mapping climate change is simultaneously communicating global and local information. In terms of mapping climate change as a challenge this becomes even more important as we try to connect local actions to the global movement. The maps I have chosen each show data at a different scale. The first map shows individuals, the second shows communities and the third shows entire countries taking action. In addition to discussing the scale, I will follow a five step process to critique each map.
Five Step Map Critique:
“Graphical excellence consists of complex ideas communicated with clarity, precision, and efficiency” (Tufte 51).
1. Layout and Perimap: How do the title, captions, text color, balance and other elements of the perimap set the context for reading the map?
2. Data Presentation: What symbology, colors, background, projection and other features in the map image contribute the map’s message?
3. Data Analysis: What type of data is shown? What are the classification techniques, choice of scale, research methods, and sources?
4. Message: What is the message of the map? How effectively is it communicated? Who is the intended audience?
5. Recommendations: How should the map be changed so that it would communicate the message more effectively?
Layout and Perimap:
This map was found on the BBC Climate Change Experiment website. The title “Map of All Participants” is mostly redundant and disconnected from the map image. The words “map” and “all” do not need to be used in the title, instead the map should be called “Participants in the Climate Change Experiment”. The caption saying when the map was generated encourages participation by indicating that the map changes if you become a participant. But it should be located below the map image instead of just below the title. The other caption cannot be seen because it is stuck below the data table. It says, “Each dot on the map represents a participant’s computer running the BBC Climate Change Experiment.” This caption should be moved to directly below the map image, especially since there is no legend. The black and sans-sarif text font close to the map is unobtrusive. This is not true of the heading on the page where the white text really stands out against the black background and an italicized “prediction” lends a sense of apprehension to the page. In addition, the pixilated image of the globe with the sun creating a blurred effect on its outline gives a sense of fragility to the earth. The emotional appeal of this header contrasts sharply with the relatively straightforward way the map displays the data.
The black diamond symbol used to represent the location of one computer is not a very appealing symbol to use for a positive activity challenging climate change. Instead a more conventional color and non-geometric symbol that is associated with “good” in climate change communications should be used. Part of the problem is the quantity of data displayed, but that will be covered in step three. The background for the data is a stylized satellite image collage of a cloudless earth on a standard cylindrical projection. Green is used to show forests, brown for desert and a saturated blue for the ocean. The decision to show a hybrid summer and winter polar ice-cap is also interesting. These display choices attempt to show the world in a more natural state.
The data presented in this first map is individual. This is an effective way to show climate change as a challenge because it promotes individual participation in solving the problem. The difficulty with individual data on a global scale map is that there will be over-crowding in some areas. A participant would only be able to see their contribution on this map if they lived in Africa, Central Asia or the Amazon rainforest. Also, it is impossible to tell that there are more participants in the UK alone than the rest of the world put together. Correcting this problem is extremely difficult. For this map, a classification system based on colors and different sized variable could show great concentrations in Germany, the USA and the UK, without ignoring the individuals in less active areas.
This map tells the reader that they should participate in the experiment because there are participants all over the world, climate change is threatening and the earth is beautiful. It communicates the first and third part of this message well but does not communicate the dangers possible due to climate change. This map is intended for an audience that already is aware of and concerned about the impacts of climate change. Still, this audience can be motivated by seeing maps of how the challenge of climate change is being met could inspire even more action. It would also be a more effective map if the data was not as cluttered, then individuals could see their contribution to combating climate change no matter where they live.
The first recommendation is to change the classification of data from one class where each symbol shows one individual to multiple classes where different symbols are used to show different amounts of people in the concentrated areas. The second recommendation is to add some more information or images in the paramap relating to the threat of climate change in order to motivate people to participate in the experiment.
Layout and Perimap:
This map was made by Middlebury student Kelly Blynn for the use of organizers that were working in New Hampshire the next summer. The title, “Climate Summer 2007: Live Carbon Free or Die!” is a great way to introduce a map presenting climate change as a challenge. The main problem with the layout is that there is so much text that it makes the reader think they have to read to understand the messages of the maps. Otherwise the layout of the poster is well balanced and the color contrasts between red, blue, green and yellow, lend a sense of urgency to action. To simplify this critique I will focus on just one of the maps on this poster.
This map uses two symbols and two colors to show three different types of data. The symbols used follow the convention for what they represent: the Step It Up arrow, a snowflake for Cool Cities, and green for townships with a climate resolution. By following convention a lot of different information is conveyed on this map in a simple and appealing way. This helps the reader be able to understand the level of climate activism in their local area, a scale they can understand and hope to influence. The one drawback of this map is the lack of any background connecting New Hampshire to a greater climate movement. A mention of New Hampshire’s climate activity relative to other states or a simple map showing it in comparison with the rest of the region would be a useful addition to the perimap.
The data scale for this map is at the community level. This is the most appropriate data for maps depicting climate change as a challenge to use because it connects people to the movement without overwhelming or intimidating them. Although this map was intended for organizers, a new person becoming involved in the climate movement could find it just as useful. This map also shows three types of non-ranking data on a single image without creating confusion or gross generalizations. The data sources are listed at the bottom right of the overall layout and are authoritative.
This map sends the message that there is climate change activism in New Hampshire already but there is plenty of room for more. t sends this message very effectively but not very efficiently. The text shares interesting information but the map speaks for itself.
The first recommendation I have for this map is to eliminate most of the text for the focal map as well as the rest of the perimap. The second recommendation is to include a small reference map like the one in the left hand corner of the layout that shows not only where New Hampshire is geographically, but also how well it is doing in terms of meeting the challenge of climate change.
Layout and Perimap:
This map is found on the national geographic website. The title “Winds of Change” lends a sense of hope to the challenge of combating climate change but it is poorly placed and overshadowed by other elements in the perimap. The “EarthPulse”, “Our Relationship With Nature”, and “Powering the Planet Takes a Toll” headings, all confuse the ultimate message of the map. Without the perimap, as can be seen below, the map is much more balanced and clear. However, there are parts of the perimap that are very helpful. The article accompanying this map perfectly frames climate change as a challenge. After describing climate change as a “specter” the article rhetorically asks, “what to do” before concluding with, “Ensuring that all people benefit from energy use while backing away from the climate brink might be humanity’s biggest challenge.”
This map is very simple in its appearance as well as the data shown. It uses a choropleth technique to show raw count data which is a major cartographic blunder. The wind turbine symbols along the bottom are a creative way to show proportionality between countries and offset some of the confusion of using choropleth data to show raw counts, but it would be better to use the proportional symbols themselves on the countries they measure. The white background for the ocean is a good choice since it is not really involved in country comparisons and the color green representing wind power fits well into the convention that “green is good” in climate change. There is an interesting interactive feature to this map that connects the proportional symbols to the country they represent. When the mouse cursor is placed over a country it turns red and the corresponding wind turbine symbol on the bottom darkens. This is a great interactive feature because the reader can easily compare the size of the country with the size of the wind turbine and make a judgement of how much that country is contributing to the climate change challenge.
The data presented in this map is national raw counts of wind energy consumption. Displaying data at this scale simplifies the appearance of a global map but it does not promote individual participation in the problem. A person living in the USA may think, “Germany has so much more wind energy then us, we should use more wind energy here,” but will not see much that they can do. A possible solution for this would be to shown wind energy use per capita out of total energy use per capita on the choropleth map and include symbols of the raw counts at the bottom only. The data source for this map is conviently available as an interactive feature and is authoritative: the Global Wind Energy Council in 2007 and the GlobalWind 2006 Report.
This map tells the reader that there are big differences in how countries are using wind energy. It shares this message well with an audience that may know very little about wind energy but knows some about climate change. It would be more effective if some data at the individual level was included.
The first recommendation for this map is to show data that relates more to the individual, like wind energy use per capita out of total energy use per capita instead of the raw counts. The second recommendation is to improve the layout of the perimap so that extra titles do not imbalance the map and draw attention away from the focus of the data.
Framing climate change as a challenge is a useful framework for reaching many different audiences. Portraying a challenge attracts attention because it acknowledges the existence of a threat but at the same time it capitalizes on natural human response to defend and have hope. It brings us to a new point of needing to deal with what is happening. We move past the debate of whether or not climate change is real, and even beyond the dialogue of what we should do about it. Instead, climate change as a challenge makes us ask the question, are we doing what we need to do in order to combat climate change and reduce its negative effects?
The main cartographic challenge to this problem is presenting data that is meaningful to a reader at both an individual and global scale. From looking at these three maps I have several tricks for doing this effectively. First, individual data symbols should be creative and conventional to our understanding of climate change. Second, data should be generalized and classified using proportional symbols in areas of high density. Third, data that is individually related, like per capita measurements, should be used instead of raw counts. As cartographers it is our job to meet the challenge of climate challenge by challenging ourselves to make accurate, motivating and useful maps.
Blynn, Kelly. Climate Summer 2007: Live Carbon Free or Die!. Middlebury, VT: Middlebury GIS, 2007.
“Participant Map.” BBC Climate Change Experiment. 26 Jan 2009. Climateprediction.net. 26 Jan 2009 <http://bbc.cpdn.org/usermap.php>.
“Powering the Planet Takes a Toll.” EarthPulse. National Geographic. 26 Jan 2009 <http://www.nationalgeographic.com/earthpulse/energy-and-carbon.html>.
Tufte, Edward. The Visual Display of Quantitative Information. 2nd. Cheshire, CT: Graphics Press, 2001.