Visualizations that showed environmental as well as financial costs have already shaped policy decisions in Phoenix and Fort Worth, Texas, where those decisions were surprises given the political culture in those cities, Stewart said.
Talking about environmental effects may also require visualizations at an even higher level, according to David McConville, president of the Buckminster Fuller Institute. He is also cofounder of The Elumenati, an engineering firm that creates tools for immersive visualizations such as planetarium shows.
For example, to discuss local decisions that could affect bird migrations, words may not be enough to describe those migrations and how they work with global flows of water and energy, McConville said. Visual depictions are required.
Data can be collected about anything, so the key to making good use of data is to decide that data is needed and why, McConville said.
"The solutions that we develop are really going to be based on the questions that we ask, so we have to be asking much more intelligent questions," he said.
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