Behind Times Opinjon’s “Postcard of a World on Fire”

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

So begins the introductory video to “Postcards of 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 Time. The project, which appears in today’s issue and was published online last month, documents how climate change has changed lives in 193 countries.

“We need to change the conversation on climate change,” said Kathleen Kingsbury, editor-in-chief of Opinion, in an interview. “We talk about it as if it was in the future, but it’s already changing the way we live.

In July, inspired by the upcoming United Nations climate change conference in Glasgow, Ms Kingsbury launched an office-wide initiative that would immerse readers in the dire consequences of a warming world – not as a threat abstract and apocalyptic future, but as a present and personal. The package would present the facts but would also advocate prioritizing an issue that has had irreversible effects on the planet, which “Postcards” called a draft Opinion.

She hired Meeta Agrawal, Opinion’s Special Projects Editor, and Opinion’s Design Director Kate Elazegui, to form teams that would compile dossiers on the most pressing climate issues in 193 countries – then would find out how to illustrate a country problem in a simplified format.

After the groups completed their research, the design team came up with several display ideas. The team opted for a mobile experience similar to the TikTok app, in which readers could easily ‘swipe’ among digital cards each containing a carousel of photos, a video or audio clip, a graphic or an illustration illustrating the change. climate. in a country.

The maps show a variety of global issues. A team of freelance staff and photographers, audio specialists and videographers from around the world documented or collected existing recordings that showed changes, like the sounds of healthy (sizzling and bursting) and dying (silent) coral reefs. ) in Fiji, captured a skater crashing through ice in the Netherlands, and recorded the deep boom of a calving glacier in Greenland. There are floods sweeping through Austria; forest fires burning Tanzania. There are elephants, freighters and cricketers.

The project also includes testimonials from people from different countries, including a migrant worker in Qatar who works outdoors in temperatures above 100 degrees and a 12-year-old climate activist in Barbados, a Caribbean country tour to tower hit by hurricanes and drought.

The biggest challenge, Ms Kingsbury said, was to ensure that the issues they chose to highlight were genuine representations to people in those countries.

“We wanted someone in the country to definitely identify with this card,” she said.

Ms Kingsbury said the aim was, wherever possible, to tell the story of someone directly affected by the problem.

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

Ms Kingsbury said the team was particularly aware of how to proceed for the United States, where the majority of Times readers live. A map allows readers to type in the name of one of the country’s 3,143 counties and see it as the main threat from climate change.

“We wanted to do something interactive that would allow people to customize it to see how the problem affects them,” she said.

Ms Agrawal said that after working on the project for five months, she came away with a better understanding of how different regions of the world have been ravaged by climate change. She highlights how everything from cultural traditions, like the practice of Kuomboka in Zimbabwe and the ascent of Mount Triglav in Slovenia, to people’s livelihoods have been affected.

While the title of the project doesn’t exactly inspire optimism, Ms. Agrawal said the team made sure to include examples of inventive ways to tackle climate change. Norway’s map, for example, includes a photo of a wooden skyscraper, a method of construction that is part of the country’s efforts to avoid the colossal carbon footprint of concrete. Spain highlights the nation’s return to pre-industrial farming methods to revitalize almond farms that have dried up amid desertification.

More than 1.5 million people have so far read the article, which was shared on social media by influential climate activists like the former vice president Al gore and John Kerry, the former senator and secretary of state and current special envoy of the US president for climate. The project is also being recognized in the field: a high school teacher in Lagos, Nigeria emailed Ms Kingsbury to tell her that she had used it as an educational tool for her students whose lives had been turned upside down by flooding, and that it made them see that they were not alone – and, hopefully, imbued them with political will.

Ms Agrawal said she hoped the project would highlight the deep devastation of climate change and serve as a warning. “The bottom line is that it is coming for you, wherever you are, and we have to do everything we can to limit the damage. “