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Tracking Climate Change in 193 countries

Tracking Climate Change in 193 countries

FILE -- A wildfire on Feb. 1, 2020, the outskirts of Bredbo, Australia. 2019-20 was a devastating fire year in Australia. (Matthew Abbott/The New York Times)

FILE -- A wildfire on Feb. 1, 2020, the outskirts of Bredbo, Australia. 2019-20 was a devastating fire year in Australia. (Matthew Abbott/The New York Times)

FILE — A wildfire in the outskirts Bredbo, Australia, February 1, 2020. Australia’s 2019-20 fire season was devastating. (Matthew Abbott/The New York Times).

“Open your eyes. We have failed. The climate crisis is now.”

So begins the video introduction to “Postcards From a World on Fire,” an ambitious multimedia project reported and developed by more than 40 writers, photographers, editors and designers on the Opinion desk at The New York Times. The project, which appeared in a recent issue, was published online last month. It documents how climate change has affected life in 193 nations.

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“We need to change the conversation around climate change,” Kathleen Kingsbury, the Opinion editor, said in an interview. “We talk about it like it’s in the future, but it’s already changing the way we live.”

In July, inspired by the then-upcoming United Nations climate change conference in Glasgow, Scotland, Kingsbury started a deskwide initiative that would immerse readers in the disastrous consequences of a warming world — not as an abstract, apocalyptic future threat, but as a present and personal one. The package would present the facts but also advocate prioritizing an issue that has had irreversible effects on the planet, which qualified “Postcards” as an Opinion project.

She enlisted Meeta Agrawal, the Special Projects editor for Opinion, and Kate Elazegui, the Opinion design director, to form teams that would compile dossiers on the most pressing climate issues in 193 countries — and then figure out how to illustrate one issue per nation in a streamlined format.

After the research was done, the design team developed several display ideas. The team decided on a mobile-friendly experience similar to the TikTok app, in which readers could easily “swipe” through digital cards that would each feature a carousel of photos, a video or audio clip, a chart or an illustration that illustrated climate change in a country.

These cards highlight a range global issues. A team of staff, freelance photographer, audio specialists and videographers collected existing recordings and documented changes. This included the sounds of dying coral reefs in Fiji and the sounds of healthy (sizzling & popping) coral reefs in Fiji. The team also captured the sound of a skater sliding through the ice in the Netherlands and the deep boom from a Greenland calving glacier. Floods sweep Austria, wildfires roil Tanzania. There are elephants, cargo ships, and cricketers.

The project also includes testimonials of people from different countries, such as a migrant worker working in Qatar in temperatures above 100 degrees, and a climate activist aged 12 in Barbados, a Caribbean nation alternately battered and drought.

Kingsbury stated that the greatest challenge was to ensure that people from these countries were able to see the issues they chose.

“We wanted someone in the country to definitely be able to relate to that card,” she said

Kingsbury stated that Kingsbury wanted to tell the story, whenever possible, of a person directly affected.

“We wanted to have as many human voices as we could to try to draw in readers who could see their own experiences reflected,” she said.

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Kingsbury said that the team was particularly aware of how to do that in the United States, where most Times readers live. One card allows readers the ability to enter the name of any one of the 3,143 US counties and view the top climate change threats there.

“We wanted to do something interactive that would let people personalize it to see how the issue affects them,” she said.

Agrawal stated that she gained a deeper understanding of the effects of climate change on different parts of the world after five months of working on the project. She points out that everything from cultural traditions such as Kuomboka (Zimbabwe) and climbing Mt. Triglav in Slovenia, to people’s livelihoods have been affected.

Although the project’s title does not exactly inspire optimism, Agrawal said the team made sure to include examples of inventive ways nations were tackling climate change. Norway’s card, for instance, includes a photo of a wooden skyscraper, a building method that is part of the country’s effort to avoid concrete’s colossal carbon footprint. Spain’s highlights the nation’s return to preindustrial farming methods to revitalize almond farms that have dried up amid desertification.

The piece has been read by more than 1.5 million people. It has been shared on social networks by prominent climate activists such as Al Gore, former vice president, secretary of state, and John Kerry, current U.S. special presidential representative for climate. The project is getting recognition on the ground, too: A high school teacher in Lagos, Nigeria, emailed Kingsbury to say that she had used it as a teaching tool for her students whose lives had been upended by flooding and that it allowed them to see that they were not alone — and hopefully imbued them with political will.

Agrawal stated that the project would be a warning and a reminder of the terrible effects of climate change. “The takeaway is that it’s coming for you, wherever you are, and we need to do whatever we can to limit the damage.”

© 2022 The New York Times Company

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