Carbon irony

As the storyteller for TEDxExeter, I had the honour of being invited to the speaker dinner the preceding evening. For the first two courses – yes we moved at half time – I sat next to Antony Turner of Carbon Sense and Carbon Visuals. The next day, he spoke about his work on “Making Greenhouse Gases Visible”. Among some wonderful imagery, he flew us around the public buildings of Exeter, or more accurately around the columns representing their carbon emissions.

Here’s a view of Exeter from the north, showing the data in Google Earth. Each coloured column is a public building. The colour indicates the Display Energy Certificate rating, from G (red) up to A (green), and the height indicates the carbon emissions per square metre.

The highest column in red is the Met Office. The Met Office building has an ‘excellent’ energy-efficiency rating, and most of the emissions are due to the immense amount of energy required to power and cool the supercomputers used in weather prediction and climate research – the climate research which informs government policy and negotiating positions on climate change. The irony!

The second highest column in orange is the Royal Devon & Exeter NHS Trust (aka hospital). Irony upon irony that a place of healing is contributing to the climate change that has already had, and will have more and more, impacts on human health.

In London, the carbon columns dwarf Tower Bridge and Big Ben. With reference to my previous post, perhaps this sort of striking imagery is one way in which science can engage people’s hearts and emotions. As Antony said in his talk, “we need to be able to see the cause of our problems in the landscapes of our lives”, because “it’s pictures that helps stories come alive”.