TEN Things About “Breathtaking” That Took Mine Away.

Recently I had the privilege of being introduced to Undark’s series, Breathtaking. This series is a collection of stories and data revolving around PM2.5, and how it’s affecting, and spreading in different parts of the world, as well as addressing some of the challenges we face in dealing with the issue as our world grows bigger, and more industrious. PM2.5 is a particulate(diminutive matter), that is 2.5 micrometers in diameter, which is 3.5% of the diameter of human hair. This particle can get into the respiratory system, and wreaks havoc. On average it kills 4 million people a year. I want to spread the word because this is a big deal so, I’ve compiled ten things I find great about Breathtaking.

  1. The title: I think it’s most appropriate to start with the title because it is the introduction to the whole series. A title must do more than give a simple description of what it refers to, and I’m a sucker a good one. A good title says or refers to multiple things about the project that follows it. For Breathtaking the title makes reference to both the figurative, and literal taking of one’s breath. The respiratory problems that arise from PM2.5 can be seen as the physical, and the surprising scale, and challenge this issue presents is very much metaphorically breathtaking as well.
  2. The message: It’s no secret that the world today is seeing one crisis after another, and PM2.5 isn’t helping, but not only has this been a problem long before what is surely a year for the history books, it will be a problem that persists long after. In addition, it is a much less known problem, yet no less deadly. One of the things that is great about this series is the message itself. It’s hard to give attention to every crisis the world is facing, so the work that the people involved put in to get this message across is a huge boon for the entire world.
  3. The presentation: The presentation of Breathtaking is very well done. It makes use of pictures, graphs, and videos to supplement its message. All of these things work together to paint a much fuller picture of the situation, and how it affects people.
  4. The scale: I mentioned it before but the scale of this issue is really something else for something I’d never heard of before. Four million may be a small fraction of the overall population of the world but it is still an alarming amount of people. To give it some perspective, albeit grim: At 25 I haven’t even formally met four million people so it would be like if everyone I know died and then some. That is a scary reality, and it’s why the scale of this issue is indeed breathtaking.
  5. The quality: One thing that I want to make sure is not lost on people is the quality of the work Undark has done in making Breathtaking. In addition to its construction, it is incredibly thorough. Each article cites multiple experts, studies, and results, and provides that information, and it’s source when applicable. They also took the time to go in depth in different places, expressing some of their area/country specific challenges.
  6. The gravity: The gravity of the situation is heavy. PM2.5 is “The sixth highest risk factor for death around the world”. A lot of the spread of this particulate comes from things that we rely on often, such as the gas of cattle, or big trucks that drive through the San Joaquin valley in California. The demand for these things continue to increase as time goes on, and there’s no clear way to maintain the status quo, and heavily reduce PM2.5 emissions.
  7. The situation: Many places where this problem is at its worse are in deadlock situations where if anything can be done it can’t be done too quickly. The trucks in the San Joaquin Valley were at one time making headway to move toward electronic trucks, but they had too many problems while their obligation was already too big to suffer through faulty trucks. Similarly farmers couldn’t change cows’ diets because that would have reduced production a large amount. Still the owner of the trucks does plan to move a percentage of his fleet to electronic, so maybe there’s still hope.
  8. The openness: One thing that isn’t necessarily exclusive to Breathtaking is how open the site is. People are welcome to comment, and even submit proposals for pages, and some of those could fall under the scope of Breathtaking so I decided to add it. Allowing people not only interact with one another, but possibly tell their own story, or provide new information is a big part of spreading awareness, and even coming up with ways to possibly combat a problem.
  9. The interactability: One thing that really stood out for me was the interactable charts, and graphs. Not only does the main page have a rotatable globe for you to take a look at how this problem is playing out on a global scale, the individual pages that focus on different countries have graphs that show emissions over different time periods. In them you can highlight different times within the period (even expanding or reducing the scale if you please), and see to the day what emissions were like. Personally I’ve never come across such thorough interactability in expressing data.
  10.  The contribution: Last, but far from least, this contribution is huge. A lot of work went into this project. Each article was written by a different person, while the visuals were provided by one person, but it doesn’t stop there. Everyone who did research on the matter, for Breathtaking, and all of those who researched it before much of the information was compiled on Undark. Everyone who had a hand in putting this together has made a truly breathtaking contribution to the entire world.

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