‘To Cut Emissions Faster, U.S. Can Apply These Policies’

The work entitled ‘To Cut Emissions Faster, U.S. Can Apply These Policies’ has been awarded the prize of Climate Change and Enviromental Commitment Best Graphic Award (Print). The work was published in The New York Times and the team behind it, 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? 

We wanted to show how far the United States could cut its climate-change emissions simply by adopting some of the most ambitious policies that are already in effect around the world.

What was the process of working on the graphic? 

We first searched around the world for climate policies that were already in effect and appeared to be having an impact on emissions, such as British Columbia’s carbon tax or Norway’s incentives for electric vehicles. We then worked closely with a think tank, Energy Innovation, to model how these policies would work if enacted in the United States, taking into account America’s existing fleet of power plants, vehicles, industrial facilities and more.

Once we had fine-tuned that model, we could compare the results with existing U.S. emissions and tell the story visually.

What has been the challenge of this story? 

It took a while to find climate policies that had a measurable record of success elsewhere. That meant looking for data on how quickly Norway’s electric car sales had grown in response to new tax incentives, for instance. We also had to understand the often intricate details of how these policies worked and how they would translate to a U.S. context.

We also talked with a number of experts to understand the practical difficulties of putting these policies in place — what are the technological hurdles to getting to 100 percent clean electricity, for instance? That way, we could be transparent about the model’s limits in the story.

Finally, and perhaps hardest of all, we had to present the data and the concept in a way that was easy to understand. Climate policy can often be extremely complicated, and we wanted to tell a very straight forward story about how there’s a lot that’s being done, and how a lot more progress is possible simply by learning from other countries and states. That’s why for the web version of the article we leaned into this metaphor of cutting emissions. We utilized grey drifting particles to represent greenhouse gas pollution and leveraged the scrolly-telling steps to visually “cut emissions” off the screen. All this was just to reinforce the idea of just how much these policies could cut emissions in the real world. When translating this piece for print we didn’t have these visual metaphors and motion available to us and thus faced the challenge of how to incrementally convey each policy’s impact on emissions.


Blacki Migliozzi & Brad Plumer for The New York Times

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