The picture(s) worth a thousand words


One of the myriads of problems (or predicaments, depending on perspective) we have in the Camp o’ Doom and Gloom is that many people in our modern world don’t want to read long treatises on Why Things Are Wrong.  The Archdruid and Dmitry Orlov, to their credit, have written long treatises, and have got many who pay attention to them, but certainly not enough to sway the tide. As many a survey has found, the capacity of “college educated” people to make logical arguments, read longer pieces of analysis, or even handle simple math has declined precipitously.

Other media, such as film (and yes, there are some good ones, as noted previously), can help spread the word of reality, but film/documentaries can suffer the same fate as long essays, and once the lights go on again, the worldview it promulgates can vanish.  Yes, people can discuss a good documentary for days after seeing it, but there is precious little to take with you other than a feeling, and the admonition to tell people to “see this film/documentary!”  Another sad issue is that documentaries can start to use to same tricks as propaganda, with swelling violins, piano and other methods to sell their worldview.

My curiosity on this topic made me wonder – when you need to tell people about the coming glitches in the world, how can you distill this down to one picture or two?   A picture of a crying Native American may pull at the heartstrings, but a graph is probably the most effective way of getting things across.  These are the graphs/data nominated for my “top N big picture” graphs/plots to show people that “No, things aren’t normal, and are not getting better.”

  1. This is the classic – the CO2 in the atmosphere.  Debated widely, it is still disturbing. Humans have NEVER lived on a planet with this level of CO2, and the rate of increase is far faster than most of the things we rely on can adapt to easily:


2 (a and b). On a related note – the sea ice coverage in the past 35+ years in the Arctic has taken a precipitous dive, probably due to the pesky heating caused by all that CO2.  The probability of data being outside that +/-2 sigma range is 4.4%.  Two graphs are presented here; the data from 1979 to the present, showing where the current data point is, and the second, showing the lowest ice extent in 2012.   One wonders when we’ll get to zero.  This year, maybe not.  In two?  In five?



3. On the financial front, which is something people have a good handle on, there are a few interesting plots to show.  One, our federal debt, as a percentage of GDP (this is being generous of course – who knows how GDP is calculated, or if it even matters).


The fact that interest rates are at an all-time low, boosting prices of housing, equities, and all else under the sun should be another disturbing plot to see.   When (or if, depending on your view) these rates go up (as they need to), the debt we will need to repay will get even larger.


4. Fisheries decline.   Looks like the EROEI of fishing, like that of oil, is also decreasing.   Not a pretty


  • What are your favorite pictures, graphs or charts showing Things As They Are, rather than Things As They Might Be For Those Addicted to Hopium?
  • There are some sites that show happy data;  for example, rates of literacy have increased, and GDP has also increased in a dizzying fashion.   What are your favorite graphs there?  Any correlation with Peak Oil?  One wonders when cheap energy goes away, if work hours, inequality, and the like will increase…
  • One of the unfortunate things is that graph data can be manipulated in a way that distorts reality.  Which graphs have you found, that in spite of supporting your arguments, are not well done – so much so, that they distract from your argument?  For example, the derivatives market, although tempting to add here, is a bit misleading, but is still growing larger, and is still scary as heck.

One thought on “The picture(s) worth a thousand words

  1. Pingback: When we know things have changed, redux | peakfuture

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