Can a Graph Be a Call to Action?

January 23, 2012 by Elizabeth Sawin

A new article,  2011 Climate Change in Pictures and Data: Just the Facts, shares, in just two pages, seven of the most important graphs on the planet. The datasets are striking, and  author Peter Gleick draws clear conclusions in a very tightly worded piece:

I wish policy-makers, business leaders, and citizens around the world had these conclusions, and the datasets behind them, more deeply in mind. Most of the time, these trends aren’t in the headlines, though. They are crowded out by emergencies that feel more immediate, or by stories that feel more entertaining. Our planetary life-support system is changing quickly, but our collective awareness of that fact is slow to catch up with reality.

Is there anything to be done about that?

At Climate Interactive, we think interactive computer simulations can help. In fact, we’ve seen how, by playing today’s possible decisions out for decades into the future, people can better grasp the long-term implications of the options before us today. We’ve seen how interactive simulations  help foster more rigorous conversations about our choices for the future.

But simulation models are just a tool, just one way to open our minds to a longer time horizon, and our hearts to the fates of people and species living on the other side of the Earth. Simulation models are powerful, but in the end it is the human capacity to care about the future that has the potential to turn a graph into a call to action.

Simulation models can invigorate that capacity for caring, but the fact that that capacity is there at all is our best hope for the future.