Smoke and Mirrors

Beatie Wolfe (GB)

Smoke and Mirrors uses art to communicate six decades of climate data, specifically rising methane levels, set alongside the verbatim advertising slogans deployed by the Big Oil industry to “Deny, Doubt and Delay” the climate data and awareness through the decades, e.g. 

1970: "Out to clean the air" by Amoco/Standard Oil at 1351.7 ppb CH4 
1984: "Lies they tell our children" by Mobil at 1644.9 ppb CH4 
1991: "Doomsday is cancelled" by Informed Citizens for the Environment at 1724.8 ppb CH4 
1993: "Apocalypse no" by Mobil at 1736.5 ppb CH4 
2000: "Unsettled Science" by ExxonMobil at 1773.2 ppb CH4 
2004: "Your Carbon Footprint" by BP at 1777.1 ppb CH4 
2017: "Oil Pumps Life" by American Petroleum Institute at 1849.6 ppb CH4 
2023: "Net-Zero" by Shell at 1911.8 ppb CH4

This evocative visualization, based on NASA’s Blue Marble image and produced in collaboration with Parliament, is set to Oh My Heart, which was released as the world’s first bioplastic record by Beatie Wolfe, Michael Stipe, and Brian Eno’s EarthPercentSmoke and Mirrors follows Wolfe’s multi-award winning CO2 visualization, From Green to Red, which was unveiled at the Nobel Prize Summit and was the largest art piece at COP26. Smoke and Mirrors was influenced by the work of Geoffrey Supran and Naomi Oreskes and sources data from NOAA and the European Environment Agency.

Statement of intent 

I had the idea for Smoke and Mirrors a few years ago, after my CO2 project From Green to Red came out and I saw how effectively it helped people to see climate data differently and to absorb it via the power of art. Realizing that a crucial piece of the climate puzzle (how we got to this critical point) has been the fossil fuel industry’s response to the emerging environmental awareness of the 1970s and that methane emissions (30 times more potent than carbon for trapping heat) are increasingly linked with that industry, I wanted to illuminate this key parallel timeline. 

While From Green to Red visualized 800,000 years of rising CO2 levels, Smoke and Mirrors focuses on fifty years of methane data set alongside the Big Oil advertising campaigns that were running during this critical period in human history. Smoke and Mirrors is about visualizing not just the methane data (smoke) in a way people can really absorb but also the disinformation campaign (mirrors) that has caused the data to be denied, doubted, and delayed through the decades. Smoke and Mirrors begins in 1970, which was also the year we had our first ‘Earth Day,’ so I chose to base the visualization on the iconic and deeply embedded NASA Blue Marble photograph (taken in 1972) that allowed us to see our planet for the first time. This was a key point in our timeline for both emerging environmental awareness and the backlash against it. 

Like From Green to Red, which was set to the song I wrote as a teenager after seeing An Inconvenient Truth, this visualization is set to a similarly interlinked track, Oh My Heart, which was released as the world’s first bioplastic record with the music in both cases helping to activate and humanize the data. 

There was extensive research involved with building out this project, which stands apart from the video and is viewable on the website, including: compiling the ice core and atmospheric methane data along with the Big Oil advertising campaigns from 1970 until present day. It was then about choosing which campaigns to highlight to help illustrate the full spectrum of “Deny, Doubt and Delay” in just 4m30s. 

Technical details 

Using Houdini’s dynamic simulation and high-end rendering capabilities, Smoke and Mirrors employs detailed fluid and particle effects to map the methane data and its atmospheric flow to illustrate the emission’s slow but inexorable spread across the decades. This project was rendered in a region using 100% renewable energy, one of the only data centers in the world that does this. 

Smoke and Mirrors uses art to communicate six decades of climate data, specifically rising methane levels, set alongside the verbatim advertising slogans deployed by the Big Oil industry to “Deny, Doubt and Delay” the climate data and awareness through the decades, e.g. 

1970: "Out to clean the air" by Amoco/Standard Oil at 1351.7 ppb CH4 
1984: "Lies they tell our children" by Mobil at 1644.9 ppb CH4 
1991: "Doomsday is cancelled" by Informed Citizens for the Environment at 1724.8 ppb CH4 
1993: "Apocalypse no" by Mobil at 1736.5 ppb CH4 
2000: "Unsettled Science" by ExxonMobil at 1773.2 ppb CH4 
2004: "Your Carbon Footprint" by BP at 1777.1 ppb CH4 
2017: "Oil Pumps Life" by American Petroleum Institute at 1849.6 ppb CH4 
2023: "Net-Zero" by Shell at 1911.8 ppb CH4

This evocative visualization, based on NASA’s Blue Marble image and produced in collaboration with Parliament, is set to Oh My Heart, which was released as the world’s first bioplastic record by Beatie Wolfe, Michael Stipe, and Brian Eno’s EarthPercent. Smoke and Mirrors follows Wolfe’s multi-award winning CO2 visualization, From Green to Red, which was unveiled at the Nobel Prize Summit and was the largest art piece at COP26. Smoke and Mirrors was influenced by the work of Geoffrey Supran and Naomi Oreskes and sources data from NOAA and the European Environment Agency.

Statement of intent 

I had the idea for Smoke and Mirrors a few years ago, after my CO2 project From Green to Red came out and I saw how effectively it helped people to see climate data differently and to absorb it via the power of art. Realizing that a crucial piece of the climate puzzle (how we got to this critical point) has been the fossil fuel industry’s response to the emerging environmental awareness of the 1970s and that methane emissions (30 times more potent than carbon for trapping heat) are increasingly linked with that industry, I wanted to illuminate this key parallel timeline. 

While From Green to Red visualized 800,000 years of rising CO2 levels, Smoke and Mirrors focuses on fifty years of methane data set alongside the Big Oil advertising campaigns that were running during this critical period in human history. Smoke and Mirrors is about visualizing not just the methane data (smoke) in a way people can really absorb but also the disinformation campaign (mirrors) that has caused the data to be denied, doubted, and delayed through the decades. Smoke and Mirrors begins in 1970, which was also the year we had our first ‘Earth Day,’ so I chose to base the visualization on the iconic and deeply embedded NASA Blue Marble photograph (taken in 1972) that allowed us to see our planet for the first time. This was a key point in our timeline for both emerging environmental awareness and the backlash against it. 

Like From Green to Red, which was set to the song I wrote as a teenager after seeing An Inconvenient Truth, this visualization is set to a similarly interlinked track, Oh My Heart, which was released as the world’s first bioplastic record with the music in both cases helping to activate and humanize the data. 

There was extensive research involved with building out this project, which stands apart from the video and is viewable on the website, including: compiling the ice core and atmospheric methane data along with the Big Oil advertising campaigns from 1970 until present day. It was then about choosing which campaigns to highlight to help illustrate the full spectrum of “Deny, Doubt and Delay” in just 4m30s. 

Technical details 

Using Houdini’s dynamic simulation and high-end rendering capabilities, Smoke and Mirrors employs detailed fluid and particle effects to map the methane data and its atmospheric flow to illustrate the emission’s slow but inexorable spread across the decades. This project was rendered in a region using 100% renewable energy, one of the only data centers in the world that does this. 

www.smoke-and-mirrors.org

Beatie Wolfe (GB), “musical weirdo and visionary" (VICE magazine) has beamed her music into space, been appointed a UN role model for innovation, and held a solo exhibition of her ‘world first’ designs at the V&A Museum. Named by WIRED as one of "22 people changing the world,” Wolfe is at the forefront of pioneering new formats that bridge the physical and digital. Wolfe's latest innovations include a visualization of 800,000 years of CO2 data, which premiered at the Nobel Prize Summit, and a Brain Installation which was exhibited at the London Design Biennale in Somerset House. Other recent projects include the world's first bioplastic record with Michael Stipe and new work with Brian Eno. Wolfe is also the co-founder of a groundbreaking research project looking at the power of music for dementia.

Beatie Wolfe (GB), “musical weirdo and visionary" (VICE magazine) has beamed her music into space, been appointed a UN role model for innovation, and held a solo exhibition of her ‘world first’ designs at the V&A Museum. Named by WIRED as one of "22 people changing the world,” Wolfe is at the forefront of pioneering new formats that bridge the physical and digital. Wolfe's latest innovations include a visualization of 800,000 years of CO2 data, which premiered at the Nobel Prize Summit, and a Brain Installation which was exhibited at the London Design Biennale in Somerset House. Other recent projects include the world's first bioplastic record with Michael Stipe and new work with Brian Eno. Wolfe is also the co-founder of a groundbreaking research project looking at the power of music for dementia.

Smoke and Mirrors is a scientific visualization that confronts us with the ever increasing tension between scientific facts about global warming and ideological positions denying such science. An emissions clock at the top of the screen rapidly counts the amount of methane in parts per billion as the 3D globe image starts to emit a pinkish smoke: a data visualization of methane density since 1970. As the Earth slowly turns and fills up with smoke, a series of still-to-this-day shocking headlines unfurls across the screen: “Oil pumps Life,” “Unsettled Science,” and “Doomsday is Cancelled.” These headlines demonstrate six decades of climate denialism and misinformation in the public sphere from Big Oil corporations. Smoke and Mirrors is inspired by the path-breaking work of Harvard historians of science Naomi Oreskes and Geoffrey Supran, who have extensively examined how fossil fuel companies have long strategized to shift responsibility for global warming away from the fossil fuel industry and onto consumers while also depicting climate change as a “risk,” rather than a reality. Smoke and Mirrors impressed the jury not only through its stark message but also in its reimagining of scientific data visualization. Visualization pioneer Edward Tufte popularized the notion that data should speak for itself, minimizing the influence of the designer. Smoke and Mirrors takes a deliberate departure from this traditional approach. Instead of letting the data stand alone, it boldly incorporates historical headlines that are in direct opposition of scientific facts, inviting the viewer to question prevailing narratives about environmental responsibility and accountability. This deliberate strategy compels the audience to confront the misalignment between scientific data and advertisement-driven public perception, emphasizing the magnitude of the climate crisis in a thought-provoking manner. Rather than being just a pure data visualization, this piece is a data “visceralization”, intentionally evoking feelings of discomfort and awe. In Data Feminism, Catherine D'Ignazio and Lauren Klein highlight the importance of acknowledging subjectivity and emotion in data work, arguing that data practices should engage with complexity and challenge existing power structures. In this vein, Smoke and Mirrors exemplifies how data can be wielded not just to inform but to disrupt narratives, urging viewers to reconsider their perspectives on urgent societal issues.

Smoke and Mirrors is a scientific visualization that confronts us with the ever increasing tension between scientific facts about global warming and ideological positions denying such science. An emissions clock at the top of the screen rapidly counts the amount of methane in parts per billion as the 3D globe image starts to emit a pinkish smoke: a data visualization of methane density since 1970. As the Earth slowly turns and fills up with smoke, a series of still-to-this-day shocking headlines unfurls across the screen: “Oil pumps Life,” “Unsettled Science,” and “Doomsday is Cancelled.” These headlines demonstrate six decades of climate denialism and misinformation in the public sphere from Big Oil corporations. Smoke and Mirrors is inspired by the path-breaking work of Harvard historians of science Naomi Oreskes and Geoffrey Supran, who have extensively examined how fossil fuel companies have long strategized to shift responsibility for global warming away from the fossil fuel industry and onto consumers while also depicting climate change as a “risk,” rather than a reality. Smoke and Mirrors impressed the jury not only through its stark message but also in its reimagining of scientific data visualization. Visualization pioneer Edward Tufte popularized the notion that data should speak for itself, minimizing the influence of the designer. Smoke and Mirrors takes a deliberate departure from this traditional approach. Instead of letting the data stand alone, it boldly incorporates historical headlines that are in direct opposition of scientific facts, inviting the viewer to question prevailing narratives about environmental responsibility and accountability. This deliberate strategy compels the audience to confront the misalignment between scientific data and advertisement-driven public perception, emphasizing the magnitude of the climate crisis in a thought-provoking manner. Rather than being just a pure data visualization, this piece is a data “visceralization”, intentionally evoking feelings of discomfort and awe. In Data Feminism, Catherine D'Ignazio and Lauren Klein highlight the importance of acknowledging subjectivity and emotion in data work, arguing that data practices should engage with complexity and challenge existing power structures. In this vein, Smoke and Mirrors exemplifies how data can be wielded not just to inform but to disrupt narratives, urging viewers to reconsider their perspectives on urgent societal issues.