Climate change data visualization launched

Félix Pharand-Deschênes and I have just produced a new data visualization on climate change for the UN’s climate negotiations taking place in Warsaw, Poland right now. It was commissioned by the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme and funded by the UN Foundation.

The visualization is a summary of the findings presented in the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (Working Group I, Summary for Policymakers, the Physical Science Basis).

The wonderful Gizmodo has covered it in its own inimitable style. In the article I try to explain what we were attempting to do. We wanted to find a way of communicating climate risks in a way that showed exactly what climate scientists mean when they say likely or unlikely. While the terminology used by researchers can sound a little vague, it is more precise than most people realize.

It was important for us to try to find a way of simplifying the complexity of fossil-fuel emissions, temperature rise and future carbon budgets to keep within policy targets. The ending is a little bleak: societies are running out of time, and running in the wrong direction. Sorry.

Being Russell Brand


Has Noam Chomsky found a portal into Brand’s brain and wrested (occasional) control?

Several recent interviews with TV host and comedian Russell Brand have taken a strange turn.His usual schtick revolving around his sexual antics and observations on pop culture has always been peppered with sharp political and cultural satire. But the balance has shifted. Gone are the anal sex gags (well, not quite). In its place comes a new obsession with the dark underbelly of the mainstream media. In an interview this week with the BBC’s Jeremy Paxman, Brand went further, making an extraordinary call for a global revolution to oust who he sees as a parasitic and corrupt global elite.
Like the film Being John Malkovich, it is as if Noam Chomsky has sought control of the Brand host and is now wrestling with the levers. A sentence that begins with a recount of Brand’s former addiction to heroin is now likely to segue into an attack on the media’s obsession with celebrity to finish with a direct reference to “the manufacture of consent”. I expect Chomsky is wandering, disoriented, on the verge of the New Jersey turnpike at this very moment.

New Jersey turnpike
New Jersey turnpike

Chomsky’s strategy is brilliant. For decades he’s treaded the margins of the media, ignored by the mainstream press and TV. His ideas have never been exposed to the masses. Now, through the Brand host, Chomsky is mainlining his messages into the filthy heart of the beast.

The mainstream media is utterly baffled.Watch this now infamous interview with the Brand host on US breakfast show Morning Joe. On live TV he deconstructs the charade of US news shows while the show’s anchor attempts, and fails, to retain her dignity and reputation. The interview begins to get ugly when all efforts by the Brand host to chat about anything on a level above superficiality — clothes, hair, beard, sex — are met with blank stares and clever navigation back to — clothes, hair, beard, sex. This occurs even though the Brand host was invited on to discuss his new show “Messiah Complex”, a global tour that tackles religion and religious leaders.

With both the Morning Joe and the Paxman interviews the cameras capture the moment Chomsky enters the Brand portal and pops into his consciousness. A glint appears in the Brand host’s eye before a monumental battle ensues as Brand attempts to articulate complex sociological and political ideas, which seem to be forming before both the viewer’s eyes, and Brand’s own. All the while, the Brand host manages to keep up a steady stream of lewd and lascivious patter.

Brand is clever. On TV he always appears the brightest person in the room. Of course, this is not hard when most rooms you walk into are full of morons — in the land of the blind the one-eyed man is king. He is über-sharp, curious and engaged. He reminds me in some ways of Bono. When Bono was asked why he does all the extra stuff beyond the Rock God thing, he replied with a rugby metaphor. He said it was like he had been passed the ball and now he just wanted to hold tight and run as far as possible until someone brings him down.

But when Brand talks about revolution and the end of the old world order he is wrong to dismiss democracy (He told Paxman he had never voted). As Winston Churchill said, democracy is the worst form of governance apart from all the others. Or, put another way, Homer Simpson once said that alcohol was the cause and the solution to all our problems. If Homer swapped “alcohol” for “democracy” he’d be closer to the truth.

Brand argues that we are destroying the planet while the rich get richer. He argues, rightly, that corporations dominate political decisionmaking and that this is accelerating inequalities and environmental destruction (See this interview with academic Richard Wilkinson on global sustainability and inequality). Meanwhile, the media, resting in the palm of the corporations, ensure the public remains in the United States of Unconsciousness. But while this line has merit it is only half the story. Democracy is failing because democracy stops at national borders and corporations do not. That needs to change. Maybe we do need a revolution. The revolution is in our mindset: we are all citizens of the world and we need to vote on that basis from now on. That is the new world order. Is that worth voting for, Russell?

This article first appeared in Medium.

The Brand portal?

How many children can we save in 15 years?

How many children can we save in 15 years

Bill Gates tweeted this a few days back. I think this is the most incredible, inspirational graph I’ve seen in a long while. It is almost like a call to arms. But the starting point, 2015, is a little daunting. We are two years away, how can we divert from “business as usual” so quickly in order to save more than one million young lives? Yet is there anything else in this world that is more important?

Urbanization in the Anthropocene

We live in a rapidly urbanizing world. But some of the world’s most biodiverse hotspots are adjacent to urban areas. This incredible data visualization from Felix Pharand Deschenes and the Stockholm Resilience Centre captures the scale of the problem, and how to solve it. In three minutes. (I get a credit at the end for my very minor role – I’m very proud to be associated with it.)

State of the art

A growing number of artists are turning to the Anthropocene for inspiration. Here, I’ve brought together several artists who explicitly reference the concept for the first online Anthropocene Exhibition.

All images kindly reproduced with the permission of the artists. 

Image: Radhika Gupta

Some years ago, a celebrity chef in the UK proclaimed cooking had attained the status of high art. Art critic Brian Sewell quipped that the day a Michelin-starred meal could be described as “profoundly disturbing” was the day these chefs could call themselves artists. Sewell was right to ridicule. Art has an emotional impact like no other.

Among many other things. the concept of the Anthropocene is profoundly disturbing. If the Anthropocene was simply a matter of geological classification it would remain hidden in a distant corner of dusty academia. Instead, the word captures who we are. It captures how far we have come. It separates us from all previous generations. It helps us make sense of our world and our new responsibility. The concept is beyond geological hair-splitting. Artists have struck a rich vein.

Not all the artists here would describe themselves as artists. 

Félix Pharand-Deschênes


namerica_anthroposphere_lend_blur anthroposphere_europa_lens_blur

Félix Pharand-Deschênes is an anthropologist and data visualizer living in Canada. He is founder of Globaïa. (Felix is also a close collaborator and friend of the author.)

David Thomas Smith

Anthropocene-David-Thomas-Smith-The-Copper-House-Gallery-Dublin-yatzer-11 burj dubai
Image: David Thomas Smith
Anthropocene-David-Thomas-Smith-The-Copper-House-Gallery-Dublin-yatzer-6 glass houses spain
Image: David Thomas Smith
Anthropocene-David-Thomas-Smith-The-Copper-House-Gallery-Dublin-yatzer- silicon valley
Image: David Thomas Smith
Anthropocene-David-Thomas-Smith-The-Copper-House-Gallery-Dublin-yatzer-4 three gorges
Image: David Thomas Smith
David Thomas Smith biosphere 2
Image: David Thomas Smith
Anthropocene-David-Thomas-Smith-The-Copper-House-Gallery-Dublin-yatzer-3 three mile island
Image: David Thomas Smith

David Thomas Smith is an Irish documentary photographer. More.

Stephen Walter

AnthropoceneStepher Walter-London-Subterranea-2012-courtesy-of-TAG-Fine-Arts1
Image: Stephen Walter
Abbey Mills. Credit: Stephen Walter:
Abbey Mills. Credit: Stephen Walter:
The Island. Credit: Stephen Walter.
LON SUB-Zoom3 copy
London Sub. Credit: Stephen Walter.
London Sub. Credit: Stephen Walter.

Throwaway whole. Credit: Stephen Walter.
Throwaway whole. Credit: Stephen Walter.
Whitehall. Credit: Stephen Walter.
Venice of Drains. Credit: Stephen Walter.

Stephen Walter lives and works in London. In July 2013, Walter’s solo exhibition Anthropocene opened at the Londonewcastle Project Space in London. More. 

Jason deCairesTaylor

Image: Jason deCairesTaylor
Image: Jason deCairesTaylor
Image: Jason deCairesTaylor
Image: Jason deCairesTaylor
Image: Jason deCairesTaylor
Image: Jason deCairesTaylor

Jason de Caires Taylor is based in Cancun, Mexico and combines diving with sculpture. The sculptures pictured here have been designed to be assimilated into the environment and will eventually promote coral reef growth and so challenging the viewer to see the positive attributes in humanity’s creativity in the Anthropocene. More.

Radhika Gupta

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radhika gupta anthropocene
Radhika Gupta

Radhika Gupta is a recent graduate in design from the Lasalle College of the Arts, Singapore, and is based in India. More.

John Stockton

Cartritus 1
Image: John Stockton
Cartritus 2
Image: John Stockton

John Stockton is an artist based in Nottingham, England. The images above come from his “Cartritus” collection. They are formed from objects found on roadside verges that have been discarded, ejected or otherwise fallen off cars and other vehicles. More.


landsat garden city Kansas landsat bolivian deforestation NASA’s LandSat Earth as Art courtesy of the US Geological Survey.

Anthropocene definitions

A milestone for the broader cultural awareness of an idea is when it starts appearing in dictionaries. Here is a selection of online definitions of the Anthropocene, including the wonderfully exotic “Gangsta” definition, courtesy of Gizoogle.

Oxford dictionaries


  • relating to or denoting the current geological age, viewed as the period during which human activity has been been the dominant influence on climate and the environment.
  •  (as noun the Anthropocene) the Anthropocene period.


The Anthropocene is an informal geologic chronological term that serves to mark the evidence and extent of human activities that have had a significant global impact on the Earth’s ecosystems.

The Anthropocene is a proposed term for the present geological epoch (from the time of the Industrial Revolution onwards), during which humanity has begun to have a significant impact on the environment.

Sub-commission on Quaternary Stratigraphy, Working Group on the Anthropocene

  • The ‘Anthropocene’ is a term widely used since its coining by Paul Crutzen and Eugene Stoermer in 2000 to denote the present time interval, in which many geologically significant conditions and processes are profoundly altered by human activities. These include changes in: erosion and sediment transport associated with a variety of anthropogenic processes, including colonisation, agriculture, urbanisation and global warming. the chemical composition of the atmosphere, oceans and soils, with significant anthropogenic perturbations of the cycles of elements such as carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus and various metals. environmental conditions generated by these perturbations; these include global warming, ocean acidification and spreading oceanic ‘dead zones’. the biosphere both on land and in the sea, as a result of habitat loss, predation, species invasions and the physical and chemical changes noted above.
  • The ‘Anthropocene’ is not a formally defined geological unit within the Geological Time Scale. A proposal to formalise the ‘Anthropocene’ is being developed by the ‘Anthropocene’ Working Group for consideration by the International Commission on Stratigraphy, with a current target date of 2016. Care should be taken to distinguish the concept of an ‘Anthropocene’ from the previously used term Anthropogene.
  • The ‘Anthropocene’ is currently being considered by the Working Group as a potential geological epoch, i.e. at the same hierarchical level as the Pleistocene and Holocene epochs, with the implication that it is within the Quaternary Period, but that the Holocene has terminated. It might, alternatively, also be considered at a lower (Age) hierarchical level; that would imply it is a subdivision of the ongoing Holocene Epoch.
  • Broadly, to be accepted as a formal term the ‘Anthropocene’ needs to be (a) scientifically justified (i.e. the ‘geological signal’ currently being produced in strata now forming must be sufficiently large, clear and distinctive) and (b) useful as a formal term to the scientific community. In terms of (b), the currently informal term ‘Anthropocene’ has already proven to be very useful to the global change research community and thus will continue to be used, but it remains to be determined whether formalisation within the Geological Time Scale would make it more useful or broaden its usefulness to other scientific communities, such as the geological community.
  • The beginning of the ‘Anthropocene’ is most generally considered to be at c. 1800 CE, around the beginning of the Industrial Revolution in Europe (Crutzen’s original suggestion); other potential candidates for time boundaries have been suggested, at both earlier dates (within or even before the Holocene) or later (e.g. at the start of the nuclear age). A formal ‘Anthropocene’ might be defined either with reference to a particular point within a stratal section, that is, a Global Stratigraphic Section and Point (GSSP), colloquially known as a ‘golden spike; or, by a designated time boundary (a Global Standard Stratigraphic Age).
  • The ‘Anthropocene’ has emerged as a popular scientific term used by scientists, the scientifically engaged public and the media to designate the period of Earth’s history during which humans have a decisive influence on the state, dynamics and future of the Earth system. It is widely agreed that the Earth is currently in this state.

Gangsta (Courtesy of Gizoogle)

Da Anthropocene sez humanitizzle gon flung our hood outta tha Holocene n’ tha fuck into a freshly smoked up geological epoch.

The Encyclopedia of Earth 

The Anthropocene defines Earth’s most recent geologic time period as being human-influenced, or anthropogenic, based on overwhelming global evidence that atmospheric, geologic, hydrologic, biospheric and other earth system processes are now altered by humans.