2021 Shortlist

New Climate Maps Show a Transformed United States

Country/area: United States

Organisation: ProPublica, The New York Times

Organisation size: Big

Publication date: 15 Sep 2020

Credit: Al Shaw, Abrahm Lustgarten, Jeremy W. Goldsmith

Project description:

We analyzed data from the Rhodium Group and a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences to show how climate change will profoundly change the way we live in the United States by mid-century. The never-before-seen data shows how heat and humidity will push the South and Gulf Coast almost to be almost unlivable, while the upper midwest will become a more ideal place to live and farm. Together this is one of the most complete views of what our climate future looks like.

Impact reached:

This project was one of our most-viewed single pages on the website all year. We’ve heard from many, many readers that by stacking the information in an additive way — showing how these individual problems will all affect the US in different ways, together — we’ve driven home a key set of problems in the climate crisis that hadn’t been as clear before. 

Techniques/technologies used:

We used QGIS and Postgres/PostGIS for data analysis, and d3, Svelte.js, Illustrator and Photoshop for presentation.

What was the hardest part of this project?

The hardest part of this project was figuring out how to combine seemingly disparate climate data sets into a complete portrait of the future of climate in the United States. From temperature to sea level rise to economic damages in dollars to the very concept of a “niche” that represents the ideal human habitation zone, we needed to show how individual counties ranked across the criteria. To solve this, the graphic includes three different visualizations: a globe, a set of county maps and a ranked table to let the reader explore these variables individually and then how they stack up together. Rather than attempt to create a combined index, the sortable table lets readers see how certain variables work together to amplify climate risks.

What can others learn from this project?

A big lesson that can be learned from this piece is that organizing and designing data visualizations from existing datasets effectively can be more impactful and revelatory than publishing wholly new datasets. While this project did have some exclusive data, the lead visualization and a number of county datasets were surfaced from existing sources. The niche dataset had been out in the world as a paper, but had not been translated into an effective visual yet. We worked with the paper’s authors to surface parts of the work most applicable to the US to create a piece that grabbed millions of eyeballs. 

Project links: