Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Graphics that Excel 1

Microsoft Excel is TheRaven's weapon of choice in the war on data. You know data. Not the StarTrek character, who didn't espouse data at all. "Data" in StarTrek was actually the exact opposite - he provided information. Excel is the single best tool for converting mass amounts of useless data into valuable information. Wholesale improvements made to technology underpinning Excel2007 led to a huge increase in capacity. Microsoft also achieved a dramatic improvement in Excel's visual tools, which include charts and graphics. All Excel2007 improvements carry through to Excel2010.

TheRaven constructed a simple image using only Excel graphics. It isn't going to win any awards but it does illustrate some of the flexibility and color options now provided with plain-vanilla Excel. It's theme expresses TheRaven's view regarding a key climate change topic. (Hint: basic chemistry).

If "basic chemistry" didn't make the lights go on, TheRaven doesn't want to be annoying. After all, no one will ever accuse TheRaven of being an artist. The image theme ("ice will melt") refers to inevitability of permanent, consequential climate change in context of a particular compound. Each object in the image represents a methane molecule, composed of one carbon atom and four hydrogen atoms.

Methane is discussed as either as a climate remediation solution or a ticking time bomb. It's posited to replace coal and possibly gasoline. Rising ocean temperatures have sparked fear over possibly catastrophic implications of methane hydrate. Such fears haven't spurred meaningful action. As of 2007, the US got 49% of it's electricity from coal, which is only three percentage points less than in 1990.

Methane in the atmosphere imposes a potent greenhouse effect. It traps multiple orders of magnitude more heat than carbon dioxide. Substitution of methane for coal or uncontrolled release due to suddenly melting of methane hydrates ends up in the same place. Substituting methane for coal would cut CO2 output in half per equivalent unit of energy. This may seem like a step in the right direction but the remaining half is still huge and this solution doesn't address the biggest carbon emitter (China) and the future reigning champ (India).

As China builds coal-fired generating plants like mad and India is desperate to supply 500,000,000 people with electricity, replacing U.S. coal with methane would lower the global price for coal. This would provide a perverse economic incentive to China and India to burn more of it. Given the relentless pace of Chinese and Indian economic growth, the net beneficial impact on global CO2 would likely be negligible. Viewing methane as part of the solution only guarantees that the only ice left on Earth will be indoors and that Mardi Gras will be looking for a new home.

UPDATE: The New York Times reviews a new HBO documentary on domestic gas drilling here.

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