Red alert! What can you do to help bring carbon emissions down?

Country/area: Singapore

Organisation: The Straits Times

Organisation size: Big

Publication date: 18/10/2021

Credit: Alyssa Mungcal, Anton Dzeviatau, Rebecca Pazos, Zachary Tia, Nuria Altimir, Oriol Vidal, Victor Garcia


Alyssa Mungcal — UI/UX Designer;
Anton Dzeviatau — Data visualisation developer;
Rebecca Pazos — Interactive graphics correspondent;
Zachary Tia — Data journalist intern;

Nuria Altimir, Oriol Vidal, Victor Garcia – initial research and prototyping

Project description:

This story aims to emphasize how rapidly we have spent almost 90% of our planet’s carbon budget — that is, the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere above which the world is guaranteed to see +1.5 deg C rise in temperature because of climate change. For most readers – those born since the 1950s, most of the emissions have happened within their lifetime and this has become a key feature of the interactive.

Impact reached:

The red smoke effect adds to the sense of urgency that can be viscerally felt when one is actively scrolling through the first part of the interactive. Everyone who saw this graphic has instantly been able to recall it and understood it’s intention – that we don’t want to fill up the screen with red smoke.

To make it feel like all these changes are happening right now, we also gave users a tool where they can choose their birth year and see how much carbon was emitted during their lifetime. 

Finally, it is not just about getting people to care but also trying to look at some probably solutions. We included a heavily curated calcluator that show how a combination of individual, companies and governments-wide measures may help to stop – or even reduce –  further carbon emissions.

Techniques/technologies used:

We mostly used our in-house scrollytelling component and D3.js for making the main visualizations. In the first component the scroll position is tied to the time flow. You can see the pace increase as you get closer to today. The challenge here was how to consider uncertainty. That’s why the edge of smoke container is fuzzy, the clouds curls back and forth from the actual value for any year. We also spent a lot of time looking for a suitable smoke video sample which is wide enough with rather thin bound of curling smoke at the edge.

The second component is based on the first one, only the bar that represents the amount of pollution emitted during your lifetime is added over it.

The third component is a set of check boxes, where you can evaluate how different measures affect the carbon emissions.

What was the hardest part of this project?

The idea here was to make readers feel that it’s an urgent issue. It’s not a steady process of pollution accumulation but an exponential growth we are witnessing. The hard thing was to choose a symbol which grabs attention and alarms. Eventually we picked the red smoke which is crawling faster and swallowing everything in its way. Carbon emissions are usually depicted as grey smoke, but we chose to use red as it turns out, scientifcally speaking, if we could see carbon in the atmosphere it would be red because of it’s heat trapping quality. Design nerd side note, the hex code for red is #CC0022, CO2, get it?

We also felt that often a lot of the conversation is on the individual taking their part in recycling or going vegan but upon investigation, we realised it was a combination of individual, company and goverrment wide efforts that could truly help reach a net zero target something quite heavily discussed at COP26 at the end of 2021. This is why we chose to produce a calculator that can only be brought down close enough to zero if more than two categories are selected. It’s heavily curated and simplified to get this point across to the reader.

What can others learn from this project?

Sometimes the memorability aspect of a project can be overlooked especially if we have done all the hard work of selecting and curating the right data, content and messaging. The visual cues must be as highly curated and edited as the data insights or text. The closer we can all get to seamless integration of a clear message with a strong visual metaphor, the more memorable our graphics become for our readers to remember long after they’ve moved on to something else.

Project links: