As a fan of Edward Tufte’s books on the power of beautiful visualizations of qualitative and quantitative data, I’m keen on the idea of exploring new ways of visualizing the climate change challenge. In part because many key policymakers are not likely to ever read the detailed reports on the science, but a few simple, compelling graphics might capture their attention.

I like the visualizations of collected by the UNEP, especially their summary of climate processes and effects, their strategic options curve, the map of political choices, summary of emissions by sector, a guide to emissions assessment, trends in sea level rise, CO2 emissions per capita. I should also point out that the IPCC reports are full of great graphics too, but there’s no easy visual index – you have to read the reports.

Now these are all very nice, and (presumably) the work of professional graphic artists. But they’re all static. The scientist in me wants to play with them. I want to play around with different scales on the axes. I want to select from among different data series. And I want to do this in a web-brower that’s directly linked to the data sources, so that I don’t have to mess around with the data directly, nor worry about how the data is formatted.

What I have in mind is something like Gap Minder. This allows you to play with the data, create new views, and share them with others. Many Eyes is similar, but goes one step further in allowing a community to create entirely new kinds of visualization, and enhance each other’s, in a social networking style. Now, if i can connect up some of these to the climate data sets collected by the IPCC, all sorts of interesting things might happen. Except that the IPCC data sets don’t have enough descriptive metadata for non-experts to make sense of it. But fixing that’s another project.

Oh, and the periodic table of visualization methods is pretty neat as a guide to what’s possible.

Update: (via Shelly): Worldmapper is an interesting way of visualizing international comparisons.

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