Behind Times Opinjon’s ‘Post Card From a World on Fire’
A team of more than 40 Opinion writers, photographers and editors spent five months canvassing the globe to illustrate the deadly consequences of our warming world.,
A team of more than 40 Opinion writers, photographers and editors spent five months canvassing the globe to illustrate the deadly consequences of our warming world.
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“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 TheTimes. The project, which appears in today’s issue and was published online last month, documents how climate change has altered life in 193 countries.
“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, Ms. 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 groups concluded their research, the design team came up with 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.
The cards show a variety of global issues. A team of staff and freelance photographers, audio specialists and videographers around the world documented or collected existing recordings that showed changes, like the sounds of healthy (sizzling and popping) and dying (silent) coral reefs in Fiji, captured a skater crashing through the ice in the Netherlands, and recorded the deep boom of a calving glacier in Greenland. There are floods sweeping Austria; wildfires scorching Tanzania. There are elephants and cargo ships and cricketers.
The project also includes testimonials from people in 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 alternately battered by hurricanes and drought.
The biggest challenge, Ms. Kingsbury said, was to make sure the issues they chose to highlight were authentic representations to people from those countries.
“We wanted someone in the country to definitely be able to relate to that card,” she said
Ms. Kingsbury said the goal was, whenever possible, to tell the story of a person directly affected by the issue.
“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.
Ms. Kingsbury said the team was particularly conscious of how to do that for the United States, where a majority of Times readers live. One card allows readers to type in the name of any of the 3,143 counties in the nation and see the top climate change threat there.
“We wanted to do something interactive that would let people personalize it to see how the issue affects them,” she said.
Ms. Agrawal said that, after working on the project for five months, she came away with a deeper understanding of how different areas of the world have been ravaged by climate change. She points to how everything from cultural traditions, like the practice of Kuomboka in Zimbabwe and climbing Mt. Triglav in Slovenia, to people’s livelihoods have been affected.
Though the project’s title doesn’t exactly inspire optimism, Ms. 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.
More than 1.5 million people have so far read the piece, which has been shared on social media by influential climate activists like former Vice President Al Gore and John Kerry, the former senator and secretary of state and current U.S. special presidential envoy for climate. The project is getting recognition on the ground, too: A high school teacher in Lagos, Nigeria, emailed Ms. Kingsbury to say that she’d 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 weren’t alone — and hopefully imbued them with political will.
Ms. Agrawal said she hoped the project would underscore the deep devastation of climate change and serve as a warning. “The takeaway is that it’s coming for you, wherever you are, and we need to do whatever we can to limit the damage.”