‘The World in 2070’

The work entitled ‘The World in 2070’ has been awarded the prize of Climate Change and Environmental Commitment (Print). The work was published in National Geographic (USA) and part of the team behind the piece shares with us some of what went in to creating the piece and the challenges they faced.


Could you briefly explain the idea of the story?

On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the first Earth Day, National Geographic devoted an entire issue to the topic. One side of the magazine presented an optimistic take on the last 50 years; when the reader flipped the magazine over they were presented with a pessimistic view. In the middle we presented data on the next 50 years of life on this planet, which became this graphic package. We realized we could use graphics to get readers to understand that the place where they live now is going to be a very different place in 2070.

What was the process of working on the graphic? 

Matt Fitzpatrick at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science had created a really great database based on climate analogs in the United States, where you could enter in a city’s climate today and it would show you where in the United States that place would feel like in 2070. We loved this, and asked him to expand it to the entire world. As we analyzed the data that Matt produced, three big themes emerged: excessive heat, water stress, and inequality. We found cities that exemplified these themes and used them as springboards to expand on those themes.


What has been the challenge of this story?

The global climate analogs dataset, though powerful, could be challenging to work with. Some cities had climate analogs that were far across the globe, making the initial visualization we made very difficult interpret, because the climate analog lines were so long. For instance, many U.S. cities had climate analogs that were clustered in Pakistan. For most places, however, there are multiple analogs in different parts of the world that have a high likelihood of being a good analog of that city’s future climate because there are similar climate characteristics found on different continents. For example, a temperate “Mediterranean” climate is not just found around the Mediterranean sea, but also in places like California and Australia. Using this knowledge, we added an additional step to the analysis which selected the best climate analog that was on the same continent or in the same hemisphere as the origin city. This improved the legibility of the visualization significantly by shortening the distance to many origin cities and their analogs.


How have you worked this year?

Lots of Zoom, and lots of Slack. It’s been really challenging, especially because our internal feedback loop is so important to our work. I know everyone says they work with the smartest and nicest people, and we’re no different. The feedback we get from our colleagues is always smart, insightful, and makes our work better, so replicating that process took a while to figure out. We’ve leaned on Slack for feedback, and that’s been really helpful. I’m really looking forward to seeing my colleagues in person again though.


Jason Treat

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