The CO2 we breathe
Category: Best visualization (small and large newsrooms)
Organisation: La Vanguardia
Organisation size: Big
Publication date: 22/09/2019
Credit: Laura Aragó and Pablo González Pellicer
This project is a visual journey that graphically represents all the carbon dioxide emitted by cars and how much forest mass is needed to absorb it. The article starts representing the consumption of CO2 of a car within a day and gradually changes the scale to represent the CO2 issued by a car during a year, by the whole car park of Madrid and Barcelona, by all vehicles registered in Spain and finally by all the transport of the world.
At least 25.000 people visited this article since it was published on september 2019. The story was also republished on instagram stories where it reached a different and diverse audience. Around 35.000 users saw the first storie and up to 20.000 followed the navigation until the final storie.
We published the article on the World Car-free Day when the Barcelona City Council was considering introducing restrictive measures for traffic within the city in order to reduce pollution. In this context, the article was very well received as it offered new data on this subject. And that allowed the reader to have tools to position themselves on the topic under discussion.
This project has three clearly differentiated parts.
Documentation and data collection
In first place, we spent almost two weeks documenting ourselves on the thopic. We did research, calculations and verification in order to establish a comparison system that was the most reliable at scientific level and at the same time very visual and informative. Some exeperts in the field recommended us which sources and databases were better for our purpose (see atached methodology) and then we did a fact-checking of each step of the calculation process with them. We used Excel in order to manage the different csv we worked with.
Once we had made clear which equivalences fit better with our purpose, we made a sketch to design the path the reader would follow when scrolling through the story. We wanted to make sure we chose the optimal way to chain the different steps.
Images and scales
For the visualizations we used Autodesk Maya for modeling and rendering (Arnold render) the 3D pieces. Once rendered, we retouched and adjusted them with Photoshop. Then, we used Adobe Spark as basis to construct an storytelling website model to integrate 3D images. As the CMS of La Vanguardia doesn’t accept any kind of special page, we had to publish this project outside of the technical system of the newspaper. For this reason we had to add manually SEO and Analytics scripts.
What was the hardest part of this project?
One of the hardest part of documentation and data collection was to find the proper way to establish a comparison system. The academic articles use such a specialized language that makes them very complicated to explain to the reader in a simple sequence of images. As soon as we tried to simplify the explanations, the scientist we were working with alerted us that we were being inaccurate. The calculations and the final outline of the story were achieved thanks to two scientists with whom we verified multiple times that the story we built and the calculations were faithful to reality.
On the visual part, one of the most difficult steps was the development of 3D models and the proportional scaling of the objects to each other in order to recreate the real difference in dimensions between them. Moreover, we had to optimizate and the render the images making sure that the framing and the dimensions were useful for both desktop and mobile.
What can others learn from this project?
This project is a good example of how colaboration between academics, data journalists and visual journalists can produce reliable articles in a very visual long format. This working methodology applied to this specific topic -co2 emissions- can provide citizens with tools and information to better understand the real impact of using private transportations and to have a global image of the amout issued each year to the atmosphere. In a time where climate change is one of the main challenges facing the 21st century, any content that draws readers into discussions, helps to raise awarness and build a more sef-sufficient citizenry.
On the other side, on a technical level this project is a good example of how to carry and create innovative journalistic projects despite the lack of resources the company invests in order to have better technical solutions when it comes to visual online journalism.