Make the Invisible Visible

March 30, 2015

It’s much easier to understand and tackle problems we can see.  Often a very real health threat from some environmental condition is not getting the attention it deserves because it’s hard to see.   It might be tiny, like fine particulates in air pollution, or underground, like drilled wells.  It might be dispersed, like varied pollution sources circling a neighborhood, or behind a barrier like a mountain or fence.

People are finding many creative ways to make environmental health hazards more visible, as a step towards making conditions healthier.   Here are just a few examples we’ve seen recently. 

Graphic illustrations can help visualize something out of sight, like the New York Times' drawings of “What North Dakota Would Look Like if Its Oil Drilling Lines were Aboveground.”

Art installations engage attention, like a Particle Falls outdoor art lights show illustrating Pittsburgh’s air quality, with support from the Heinz Endowments.  As Heinz’ Phil Johnson wrote, “you can see — in vivid color and within seconds of real-time — the challenge our region continues to face when it comes to improving air quality.”

Real-time images capture the reality of a moment,

like the BreatheCam visuals of changing air quality in Pittsburgh, also supported by the Heinz Endowments. 

Aerial

photos document conditions from the air, as southeast Chicago residents did using cameras on tethered balloons to compile an aerial image of a petroleum coke waste dump.

Mapping of data brings a lot of information together in one visual, like SkyTruth’s dynamic natural gas flaring map

and other imaging recently honored with a Cornell Douglas Foundation Jean and Leslie Douglas Pearl Award.

Labeling can offer a visual sign of standards, like the Fair Food Program Label to encourage fairer far

mworker wages and working conditions, launched by Jessie Smith Noyes Foundation grantee the Coalition of Immokalee Workers.

Hopefully these will spark other ideas about how to make environmental health and justice realities more visible – or comments highlighting  other noteworthy examples.

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