The Real Costs is a form of eco-visualization that responds in real-time to web-based queries and provides a graphic description of the ecological impact of travel decisions.
The project consists of an open-source Firefox web browser plug-in that inserts CO2 emissions data into airplane travel e-commerce websites such as Orbitz.com, United.com, Delta.com, and so on. Like the nutritional information labeling included on food packaging, this plug-in provides emissions information that is otherwise excluded from travel websites. Instead of a search for travel returning the cost in dollars, The Real Costs informs travellers of the cost of their journey in carbon emisssions and the number of tree-years required to offset it, along with comparative carbon footprint information for other forms of travel. Another graph shows per-capita carbon output by country, with the US off the chart.
Artist Michael Mandiberg explains that "The objective of The Real Costs is to increase awareness of the environmental impact of certain day-to-day choices in the life of an Internet user. By presenting this environmental impact information in the place where decisions are being made, I hope to impact the viewer, encourage a sense of individual agency, start ongoing discussions, and provide a set of alternatives and immediate actions. In the process, the user/viewer might even consider a personal transformation from passive consumer to engaged citizen."