Steps to a Better Environment

Steps to a Better Environment

Tricia Shi, Nina Lutz, Sharlene Chiu, and Zachary Collins

The data says that our collective mindset towards the environment will have a serious impact on how global carbon emissions will trend over the next few decades. If we take care of the environment, they can level off somewhere very near our current rate. If we don’t, they are expected to increase quite rapidly. We wanted to tell this story because the effects of our actions today, although not necessarily making an immediately noticeable impact, could have drastic consequences on the state of our environment just a few decades into the future. This will not only determine the world future generations live in, but even the majority of us today.

Our data visualization project is a staircase that will help people understand the impact our everyday actions can have on our carbon footprints. The shape of the staircase maps our past global carbon emissions as well as two projections for carbon emissions over the next few decades. One projection assumes we live in a world in which, “people pursue personal wealth rather than environmental quality” while the other is a world in which we place a, “strong emphasis on community initiative and social innovation to find … solutions.” Essentially, what happens if environment protection becomes a societal passion versus something we just brush under the rug. The differences are drastic.

To display this data, we wanted to create a visualization that could be interactive with the viewer while still being able to reach our audience passively. We decided that a staircase offers many metaphorical and engaging traits that would help us hammer our major points home. From a passive perspective, the shape of a staircase could easily be molded to align with the line graph representation of our data. Observing it from the side allows the viewer to make out the trends in CO2 emissions and presents it in a form that makes comparing the two models easy. The ability to view the data from various angles allows the different projections to be highlighted.

Climbing the stairs presents a very clear opportunity to get the audience engaged and quite literally feel a comparison between the two. Along the way, we present the climber with numerous facts about both past, current, and future carbon emissions. The first half of the staircase, which follows CO2 transmissions over the past few decades, presents facts related to what actions have led to the current levels and incident climb that we are making. As soon as they reach 2020, the staircase splits into two halves, one for each projection. The audience can feel the different steepness of the two set of steps and this is representative of the rising CO2 levels associated with them.

The two sides are meant to act as a parallel and present facts that demonstrate what actions we take as a society that impact environmental conditions. The half that follows the path toward high levels of CO2 showcases facts like “3 billion trees are cut down annually” and “13% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions come from the production and transportation of food”. Things that we don’t think about impacting our global ecosystem so heavily but might observe everyday. The second half that follows the path to a better environment presents paralleled ways we can counter the other half. Facts like “planting an individual tree can help consume up to 48 lbs of carbon dioxide from the air per year” and “Eating locally grown foods avoids the high carbon output created by transporting long distances”

The ideal setting for our data visualization would be a museum. Having this staircase lead to two paralleled exhibits could further compound the comparison these two models attempt to make. The staircase that follows the projections of high CO2 levels could lead to a display on what the rising pollution levels could change (i.e. food quality, climate, and disease). The other could lead to a display of things that reducing pollution and CO2 levels would instead protect. We imagine setting this up in a museum would have a powerful effect on the people there. Going to a museum fosters a sense to explore and engage with what’s around you. Having that mindset will really maximize the potential for people to understand the information the staircase offers, both passively and interactively. Our target audience consists of children, young adults, and middle-aged adults, many of which we would find in this setting. Since museum trips are often done with families, the onus to prepare for future generations — their children’s generations — are more heightened and will allow these paralleled projections to be more profoundly felt. Placing positive connotations around acts that are good for the environment could help reach children who climb and interact with the stairs.


  4. (Spencer Weart & American Institute of Physics)