Ouroboros depicts rising global temperatures since 1880 in the context of a cycle of consumerism and estrangement from nature. The title references the snake that eats its own tail. This hints at the self-destructive cycle of consumption that fuels anthropogenic climate change and also the unusual circular form of the poem, made possible by the animated ‘barrel’ data visualisation.
This piece was a collaboration between Kev Pluck, a coder and data analyst who developed the data visualisation, and James Stone, an amateur poet and founder of Poetry in Data.
Kev says “I’m a software engineer who has, in the past year, become obsessed with climate data trying to find new and innovative ways of presenting it to the general public. I like that after 20 years of coding experience I am still learning techniques especially now that I have started animating data. I feel that what is happening to the environment is too important to ignore and that these animations are my small contribution to nudge people into improving it.”
The difficulty in tackling climate change can be seen not as a failure of science, but of communication. The science is robust, but only speaks to the converted, or those inclined to listen.
I wanted to create a datapoem using a graph of rising sea-levels, because we are all familiar with that theme and have probably seen similar graphs, to the point of saturation. It ceases to shock us. I hoped that by overlaying it with a haiku, it might provide an emotional jolt, to make us take notice and consider the future.
The title of the datapoem ‘Mercury Rising’ refers to both increasing temperatures and the planet Mercury, which is inhospitably hot. Mercury is also the messenger of the Gods, and the poem is intended to communicate a warning.
The 3 lines of the haiku cover record-breaking temperatures becoming the norm, drought and floods wiping out humanity, and our future regret.
Visually, I wanted the poem to feel like it had run out of time and space by the end, reflecting our increasingly cramped world and the possibility that it may already be too late to act.