The New York Times does some of the best data visualization in journalism and the paper has assembled highlights of its 2012 work. A few of these graphics relate to Western environmental issues and some are accompanied by descriptions of how they were created. Here are my favorites:
Brilliant use of small multiples to show what fraction of the United States was experiencing moderate to extreme drought in a given year. When the piece was published in July, more than half the contiguous United States was classified this way, the highest level in nearly six decades.
The graphic stretches all the way back to 1896 and it really shows that 2012 was an exceptionally dry year. But as recently as 2010, very few areas were experiencing drought.
We cover drought in our water deck, and in a future post I’ll be sharing some visualizations that focus on drought the West.
The Times used a different system for measuring drought to create another visualization. Rather than relying the U.S. Drought Monitor, as it did in the footprint maps, the paper uses the Palmer Drought Severity Index. The former uses the Palmer index as one of its inputs, but it’s also based on stream flows, crop moisture, precipitation patterns, and expert judgement. The Palmer index is strictly based on temperature and precipitation. It not only shows drought but also wet spells.
One cool thing about this graphic is that you can roll your mouse over the various levels of the Palmer index to see the driest and wettest periods. Once again, the current drought stands out as a deep one, but it’s certainly not unprecedented.
Another thing I noticed is that in 2011, large parts of the country were either very dry or very wet.
This graphic puts the humble pie chart to shame and effectively shows how entitlements, defense, and debt costs dominate the federal budget. Click on the “Department Totals” tab to see how federal spending is divided up by agency. As you might imagine, environmental departments, such as EPA and Interior, are overshadowed by other agencies.
We cover federal (and other) spending in our politics deck and have a number of other graphics showing how environmental and natural resource programs are tiny in comparison with other federal spending priorities.
4) Parsing the rhetoric at political conventions
The Times analyzed all of the speeches at the Republican and Democratic conventions to determine which words were most common and how the language of the two parties differed.
You can plug in your own words or phrases to see how often they were spoken. I’m being a bit parochial, but here are the number of hits I got for both parties: environment (3), conservation (0), climate change (1), global warming (0), pollution (1), water (4). And that’s per 25,000 words.
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