William Drenttel | Essays

Weather Report: 53 Degrees F. Heavy Snowfall Predicted

I was having dinner a couple of months ago with an old friend, a journalist I've know for over 20 years. Our common interests generally veer towards the darker sides of human nature, and it is more common for us to discuss Kafka, genocide — even cancer — than to venture into territory that might, in some circles, be considered Green.

And then we got talking about the weather.

New York City had 26.9 inches of snow on February 12th, the largest amount since record-keeping began in 1869. Here in the Berkshires, just north of the city, the temperature was 53 degrees fahrenheit on February 15th, and there was no snow in our meadow. It was an early blast of springtime: our grass, long dormant, turned green the following week.

Maybe I'm slow. But I am not stupid. I don't care what the National Weather Bureau says. I don't care how much George Bush wants to censor science.

The weather is fucked up.

Ralph Caplan expressed it thus: "Science," he explains, "is a way of making sense of the world. Design is a way of making the world make sense." I don't know how to make sense of the weather, except to acknowledge that something is terribly wrong. As a designer who has always struggled with the idea that design is a problem-solving profession, I can only hope that someone will start applying some problem-solving methodologies to environmental problems like these. Twenty-seven inches of snow on top of Katrina on top of a Tsunami is enough factual evidence for me.

This past week I got a call from Chris Murphy, a Democrat running for Congress against a popular Connecticut Republican, Nancy Johnson. I'm going to meet him next week, and I already know how I'm going to greet him. I'm going to ask him about the weather.

Posted in: Science , Social Good

Comments [37]

The 2004 tsunami had no direct relation to the weather, global warming or greenhouse gasses. It was caused by an undersea earthquake.
Alex Torrance

Good point Alex. I stand corrected.
William Drenttel

My immediate thought jumped to Tufte's examples of small multiples. I recently saw a news segment on the current U.S. administration's unwillingness to acknowledge the severity of global warming. The polar ice caps are receding at an alarming rate, and experts are trying to emphasize that we have a narrowing window in which to act before reaching the "point of no return." I think that window was 10-15 years, but the administration has focused a lot of its energy into the censoring and editing of the way such reports are written. This is a great post; a reminder of the impact graphic designers can make through the visualization of complex information. It's not so hard to understand how modern living has created the conditions that have enabled "Twenty-seven inches of snow on top of Katrina on top of a Tsunami," but sometimes we just don't 'get it' until we see it.
tracy kroop

Up here in Montreal we had an extremely mild winter as well. Rather ruined the fortunes of all the ski hill operators, and who knows what it'll do to the wildlife (or the northward spread of creatures / bugs / diseases that normally stay put. We're already seeing beetle invasions and the like.

The weather has become a political issue; the question is, is anyone bold and brave enough to put forward policies strong enough to deal with the issue?

Living a green lifestyle as an individual is one thing, but adjusting market forces to deal with the large-scale, collective issues (CFCs, greenhouse emissions, favouring new urbanist design over sprawl, downscaling to local agriculture and economic production) is another.

Actually, the way I look at it, absolutely everything is related. If I buy something wrapped in plastic and 13 layers of cardboard, I'm contributing to the problem. Quite directly. That doesn't make it easily avoidable, but I have to shoulder my responsibility and stop looking only to politicians to do something about the problem. EVERYONE -- and I mean everyone -- has to do something about this problem, from business, politics, factories, industry, to consumers, drivers, and every person who has something to throw away. Why is everyone waiting until there are laws in place telling them what to do, when there are reams of great advice on how to help available for the asking? Lawmakers drag their feet. Their policies are usually not radical, especially in the face of big business. What we need is radical change, and I'm hoping some of the big players make changes instead of waiting for policymakers to make up their minds and finally acknowledge the enormity of the problem.

It sometimes seems as if no one (business, politician, individual, school, you name it...) wants to be the one put out to help save the planet unless we're all in it together. "Why do *I* have to suffer and do without (spend more, save less) when we're all doomed anyway?" We are part of a cultural organism that is part of a planetary organism, and disease or disorder has been spreading for quite some time. Most (businesses, politicians, individuals -- you name it) are for all intents and purposes stuck in the rut of an entirely selfish routine and caring for what effect one has on one's neighbors, state, country, world plays very little into their calculations. The effect is a blight to the world in which we all breathe the same air, drink the same water, sustain ourselves on the same molecules, regardless of whether we walk upright, on all fours, fly, crawl, swim or slither.

On the note of Gaia (or Terra or Earth) being a living breathing and entirely integrated planetary organism, there is an enormous possibility if not a palpable scientifically calculable possibility that changes to the surface temperature or weather of Earth could contribute to additional seismic activities. Being alarmed by a tsunami is good -- it's one sign amongst many that Gaia is having issues. Increases in disease and disorder amongst people, extinction and threats to critters, waste issues, greenhouse issues, global warming issues, are not able to be individually isolated from each other and resolved as discrete problems -- they are all symptoms of the same overall issue.
Criss Ittermann

It is interesting that the arguement against greater control of greenhouse gases, i.e. the Kyoto Protocol, is that it will put the US at an economic disadvantage and place an unfair burden on the uS economy. Yet somehow, the devestation caused by Katrina and other hurricanes, tornadoes in the Midwest, mudslides in California and freak snowstorms in the East are accepatble economic burdens? By that logic, I assume that the Republican Party can claim that they actually benefit the US economy.
David Cabianca

The earth's temperature stopped rising in 1998 according to global temperature readings. Sooo... what does this mean?

Can we please remember the Earth is billions of years old. Just because we do not have any human recollection of climate changes or this "weird" weather doesn't mean it hasn't happened before. We have been keeping track of weather since... you said 1869? Hmmm... a little under a 140 years... a blink of an eye when it comes to the Earth.

According to soil samples and tree rings during the Dark Ages temperatures rose worldwide. There was more of a rise in Temperatures in the 1940's to 1960's than 1980's to now.

The ancient egyptians describe their world as lush and green.. now its a desert.

Human weren't around during the last ice age... but it still happened.

No one is mentioning that the "hole in the ozone" is actually receeded. Or the sun is hotter than its ever been in its 11 year cycle. Hell, the worst Hurricane in US history happened BEFORE the advent of the gasoline engine.

We are still LEARNING about our environment our Earth and our place in both. So I'll keep the doomsday scenarios to you... I am not saying we shouldn't cut back and institute "greeness". I work for an architectural firm that is pushing LEED and Green Design. I believe in it. I just don't believe that the world is in such horrible condition.


Well, JB, hundreds of climate scientists with hundreds of Ph.D's worldwide disagree with that assessment. When it comes to something as serious as this, everyone's entitled to their opinion, but we're not entitled to our own facts. And the facts are strongly on the side of there being a rapid, recent, contemporary rise in global mean temperature; supercomputer models have been devised and refined, and accounting for all factors which could affect the climate, human activity is the only thing left to explain it. The two final nails in that (our?) coffin have been the polar ice core samples showing atmospheric CO2 levels over hundreds of thousands of years of history, and recent corrections to temperature collection methodology which had falsely skewed some data -- so that refutes any climate naysayers. About the only ones left are paid mouthpieces of Exxon, and others who don't want to endure the short-term pain of rengineering their businesses to stop or slow down the process. I suggest you read the findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and their followup reports if you need to be convinced.

Tried to write you a letter but would not go through Just read The Long Emergency
Don Law

This author is speaking here tonight:

Looks like a fantastic book.

Most of these Climate models that you are talking about are using "ground heat"... do you live in a city? Urban dwelling areas retain heat... most climate models use retained heat measurements... not air measurements. These are conisdered "false highs" to most climatologists. These are still being used by scientists because most use a collective temperature guide to create the computer models. Using satellites we can measure temperatures better. Check out Climatologists John Christ's work on it. From 1998 - 2005 a statistical change of ZERO.

As for Models themselves... they do not PROVE anything. Hurricane models said 15 then 20 hurricanes max... well we had what 28?

Glaciers and ciecaps have been growing and receeding cyclically for years. Scientists know of 33 times glaciers have grown and then receeded... also there are sports on the polar icecaps that have thickened... but you dont here about that do you?

It is funny that you quote the IPCC... but the author attacks George Bush. The IPCC is scientists put into a group by politicians. The latets report says in 100 years we will see a 6 degree (celcius) rise in temperature... but those estimates were added in the late stages by government request and against the request of the board of scientist that were chosen before. So is this "wag the dog"...

PS even in the IPPC it contends AND I QUOTE

"The fact that the global mean temperature has increased since
the late 19th Century and that other trends have been observed
does not necessarily mean that an anthropogenic effect on the
climate system has been identified. Climate has always varied
on all time-scales, so the observed change may be natural."


Back to work!!

Quick info

About Hurricanes...

I personally believe the Earth is going through a stage.. I just don't believe we are going to die in ten years like some people have said.


I personally believe the Earth is going through a stage.. I just don't believe we are going to die in ten years like some people have said.

If you're referring to my earlier post about the window of opportunity, maybe this needs some clarification. I wasn't talking about imminent death; I was talking about the statements of experts that we have that window to implement corrective measures before damage will be considered irreversible.

I'm not professing to be a scientific expert here; my intention was to point out the relevant design issues of being able to visualize the statistics that come across in such abstract terms to most of us (unless, of course, any of us in this forum are scientific experts... again, not me.).
tracy kroop

Great post, William.

I happen to be reading Field Notes from a Catastrophe: Man, Nature, and Climate Change, by Elizabeth Kolbert (parts of it appeared as a three-part series in "The New Yorker" last year), and I highly recommend it to both those who are concerned about this issue and those who are not.

Kolbert presents some very compelling evidence from many scientists who have been studying not just changes in the weather or the Arctic but also animal migrations to warmer climates (to give but one example), and the big picture presented by Kolbert is pretty scary. Some scientists believe that we are already past the "point of no return" mentioned above. We may not all die in ten years, J.B., but we are certainly ruining things for those who will come after us, to put it mildly.

I agree that design could be very useful in making visible some of the data being gathered in all of this research.
Ricardo Cordoba

Funny story I remember:

I once heard the "time & temp" phone message in Ireland always said, "Fair to partly cloudy today with a chance of rain," no matter what day you called it. Funny.

I also recall as a youngster my mom letting my brother and I call "time & temp" in the morning before school. The phone number was always 314 and then any four numbers afterward. We could dial 314 and then 0000, or 1234, or 5678 - or whatever! The last four didn't matter. And it was always a lady's voice saying, "The offical (name of bank) time now is ---- , . . . pause . . . the current temperature is ----." I miss it. The local time & temp phone number here in Kansas City went "out of business" a couple of years ago.

I hope its fair tomorrow. :)
Joe Moran

What if packaging not only had nutritional information, on how good or bad the food is, but also ecological information, about how much fossil fuel was spent to get that food to you from where it was made, how much fossil fuel was used in the plastic it is surrounded in. We somehow need to drill this idea into the conscience of consumers. Modern life is so wasteful it makes me sick.

It's all these little things as well. Plastic bags to hold your groceries that are used for only a few minutes. Plastic forks and knives which the local caf puts in your lunch bag which you throw out anyway.

If you are a consumer, and we all are, we all need to be vigilant in our purchases and actions. But we as designers can make changes to the system before it even reaches the consumer.
We as designers can make a difference, we can institute change in packaging, make recommendations, choose who we work with.
marc Kremers

OMG We're all going to burn alive! Oh, what's that you said, an ice age is coming and we're going to freeze to death!? AHHH, it's all so hopeless...

It seems like the thing we all agree on is that mankind should live a "greener lifestyle," and I assume that by "greener lifestyle," we mean a life style that has a minimal impact on the earth through reducing the amount of waste and pollution produced. So, it is irrelevant weather (that's a pun) or not you think global warming is a serious issue, because the question is, "How do we, through the power of design, live greener lives and inspire others to do the same?"

I work for a theatre auditorium and as apart of my job I design catalog-styled playbills for each of the events. On average I produce 2 playbills a week and they are 32+ pages. It's not a glamorous job, but it helps put me through school; however, recently, after seeing an enormous stack of proofs, I was inspired to find ways to reduce the environmental and economical cost of producing these materials.

I began by deconstructing the financial sections of several annual reports, and focused on reducing the number of total pages through the use of typography. I was very careful to not disrupt the aesthetic (it was fairly easy since most financial sections are rather boring). I won't go into all the details since this isn't my blog, but every annual report I tested, 25 total, I was able to reduce the overall size by a total of 4-12 pages.

Simply going through this process has changed me. It's created a hyper awareness in me that has motivated me to live a greener lifestyle, and I now do a number of things such as recycling, proofing on screen, and taking the bus more often to reduce my environmental impact.

I think we all have areas, especially within design, that can inspire us to think differently about the roles we play on the earth. Mr. Drenttel, I'd especially like to read your rant coupled with your thoughts on how design can influence this topic.


Designers should think: How can i sell this? How can i make this better for the user? How can i make this as ecologically sound as possible? Usually it's only the first two which designers think about.
Marc Kremers

Don't forget the Pentagon's own peculiarly Ballardian take on global warming, wherein they predict planet-wide rioting and nuclear war in the face of catastrophic environmental changes. Or James Lovelock's prediction that the human species will be reduced to a few "breeding pairs" in the Arctic.

The more interesting question seems to be not Is climate change actually happening?, but what will it mean when you can write a novel set on a glacier in the Yucatan - and no one thinks it's an act of surrealism? Chicago, buried in sand dunes - and it's not science fiction.

Climate change becomes a question of genre. It's also a question of temptation: wanting to see what happens. The earth become unearthly. A negative paradise.
Geoff Manaugh

What if packaging not only had nutritional information, on how good or bad the food is, but also ecological information, about how much fossil fuel was spent to get that food to you from where it was made, how much fossil fuel was used in the plastic it is surrounded in. We somehow need to drill this idea into the conscience of consumers. Modern life is so wasteful it makes me sick.

marc -

i think nathan shedroff is working on such a system www.revealinfo.com.
david hartman

This just in today from the Washington Post, and surprisingly related to this post.
William Drenttel

I attended the car show in NY yesterday. I couldn't help but be amazed at what I saw and heard. There where plenty of new muscle cars and SUV's most, almost all applied no new energy technology. The glamourus people on the platforms didn't talk about fuel economy but went on and on about power and how fast you could get from 0-60 or go 200mph. Some even shouted about it! Very discouraging being that gas is now 2.75 a gallon and the continual bad news about the environment.
There was a large display about Ethanol connected to GM, right next to the huge Surburban models.
The dicouraging fact is, that most won't hear or pay attention to common sence and the marketing of the 'NITRO' or 'CHARGER' will have the them rationalizing the feul costs without even considering the environmental or social cost.
Chris Neyen

comfort zone.

living at the expense of others/other things.. far removed from one's own situation and experience.

i like:
Designers should think: How can i sell this? How can i make this better for the user? How can i make this as ecologically sound as possible?

but the nature of a market economy only really asks 1 of those questions, and typically a few others like, how can i maximize my profits? or- what corners can i cut? all of which neglect both environmental and humanitarian issues.

its not just about knowing the facts, its about respect and integrity, speaking as an american, there is very little of that in this country. although, as a californian, im admittedly uncomfortably impressed with arnold recently.

it requires not only responsible designers but responsible consumers.

Here is a piece of design which aims to illustrate to the user the wear and tear that he/she is causing on the planet:
The quiz gives the result in a very startling unit of measuremen - the number of planets it would take to support the population of the earth, if everyone lived like YOU. I was very interested and impressed by this and I'd be interested to see what people think about it from a design standpoint. I'm also going to point out that it really puts you in your place if you are a self-congratulating tree-hugger. A friend and I, who can both be caught gloating about how we decline to drive and ride our bikes, still found ourselves needing four planets and two and a half planets, respectively. I suspect that almost everyone who participates to any extent in American living, is using far more than our fair share of resources.
Leslie Kuo

great site.

Whether it's about art or whether or environment....
Usually, things of importance that are not of immediate impact to us are often trivialized.
Unfortunately, when there is already an impact, the process is nearly irreversible.
Maybe it happens in cycle. Maybe there is a point of no return.
Maybe design can help. Just maybe :(

look fr studioLDA

I recently read this article, and in light of this Design Observer post, I find it particularly interesting. Perhaps a few of you will, too.

RE: Packaging
Is it the plastic or cardboard that is the cause for concern? How about a comapny that grows bamboo packaging? But then it's still wood pulp. Maybe the plastic wrap solution will be solved by corn or soy products. Or maybe packaging and industrial designers will actually be able to sell their clients a less-processed, less toxic form of printing, packaging and marketing.

I remeber the scare of the 80s being polystyrene. Honestly, everything degrades, some materials do it quicker than others in our nitrogen/oxygen atmosphere. Millions of years quicker. If the change is to come quickly, then we need materials that will degrade quickly, say in land fills. Unless burned, that's were packaging ends up.

RE: Weather
Al Gore's scary new film. And for your inner conspiracy theorist: Say, "Nay!" Say, "Nay!".

not to come to the defense of a car company, but GM offered an electric car in the late 1990s that was a dud with consumers. i remember because the attik designed these trendy commercials about how the science fiction was now reality.

maybe the reason the people at the auto show were touting performance and muscle over eco-friendliness is because american auto manufacturers haven't had much success in that regard. gm is on the ropes and their heritage isn't in fuel efficent cars, its in muscle cars like the camaro. i'm speculating here, but what sells a detroit car isn't because people have done the research on the fuel efficency, but rather because they fall in love with it. or because it satisfies some deep internal insecurity.

tapping into the muscle car consiousness of the generation that grew up loving hot rods might prove to be a smart selling strategy. it seems like its worked for cars like the new ford mustang.
david hartman

If you are a consumer, and we all are, we all need to be vigilant in our purchases and actions.

For those living in the U.S., the EPA has a Personal Emissions Calculator that lets you see how much each of our households is contributing to global warming.

It's not so hard to understand how modern living has created the conditions that have enabled "Twenty-seven inches of snow on top of Katrina on top of a Tsunami," but sometimes we just don't 'get it' until we see it.

The latest issue of Seed magazine has an article called "State of the Planet 06" that features A graphical look at what we've done and where we're going.
Ricardo Cordoba

I once heard the "time & temp" phone message in Ireland always said. "Fair to partly cloudy today with a chance of rain," no matter what day you called it. Funny.

Taking the conversation back to design for a moment, those infographics from Seed Magazine that Ricardo mentioned above are a great example of how design fails the public. Take a look at the second illustration here, and see what conclusion you come to. The lesson seems to be that deforestation in Brazil isn't really such a big problem, though the numbers tell another story: it only takes a little subtraction, some unit conversion, and a glance at an atlas to figure out a better way of making the point, which is that since 1970, the Brazilian rain forest has shrunk by the size of The Lonestar State.
Jonathan Hoefler

(Sorry about the weird ending above. DesignObserver wouldn't let me publish a post that include the state of "Te*as," presumably because of all the gambling-related spam. First proof that spam is harmful to the natural world?)
Jonathan Hoefler

The noise pollution is now greater than the air pollution.

"Green" is the new black.

Point is, there is no doubt among the scientists that we're experiencing something extraordinary.

Please see, and publicize, the film "An Inconvenient Truth." It is the most dramatic presentation yet of factual evidence concerning the climate crisis.

If interested, you can read this post and follow the links.
Tom Guarriello

Here's a good article with graphics and video from NY Times relating to the above discussion.

Joe Moran

Dear UPSA,

Very glad you liked my anectdote. Saw your blog. Very impressive.

Sorry you live in a Communist country ( for now ) and wish you the best of luck in your country's move toward democracy. Hope this doesn't "alert" the PR's Web police.

One comment -- your blog is only in Chinese and there is no interpretation "link" like your other interior design Web site, where there is an "Enlish" tab to translate everything. If this is a security concern, pardon me.

Hope this finds you well and not in jail. Very concerned for the Chinese population considering Mao's continued influence in the rural areas as well as the Communist party still in power (though he killed more people than Hitler and Stalin combined which no one seems inclined to talk about).

Keep doing good work!


Joe Moran
Joe Moran

Follow Up: Dear UPSA,

Hope your weather is "fair to partly cloudy" tomorrow.

Joe Moran

Last week a tornado touched down in my hometown, Sleepy Hollow, which is located not in rural Kansas, but in suburban New York about 30 miles up the Hudson River from Manhattan. Amazingly, no one was killed, including a cop in a police cruiser was picked up, turned upside down, and spun around a few times.

We all better get used to this sort of thing, I guess.
Michael Bierut

Jobs | June 15