The majority of Germans are concerned about the climate, but very few want to live without a car. While in other sectors CO₂ emissions are falling, the transport sector is stagnating. Our application playfully introduces the topic – with a simplified version of the classic car quartet. Readers quickly realize that manufacturers have to reduce their cars’ emissions significantly if the targets are to be met. The reason for this is explained by an interactive chart that makes clear that the 2010ths in Germany were the decade of the SUV.
The project came at just the right time, before the coronavirus pandemic and in the midst of the debate about a sustainable and environmentally compatible future. In winter 2019, there had already been debates about SUVs in cities and their potential danger in traffic accidents in Germany, following several serious accidents. The project underpinned the debate with the facts about the rise of the SUV as the best-selling car segment in Germany, and the poor environmental performance of the car fleet of the Germans’ favorite manufacturers.
We created and discussed the designs in Sketch, and the implementation was done in d3.js in a template based on react.js and node.js. For data cleaning and analysis we use R.
What was the hardest part of this project?
Although the data was published by the “Kraftfahrtbundesamt”, Germany’s motor vehicle authority, as individual tables within several, long PDFs, the authority was very uncooperative when it came to releasing the data in machine-readable form. The office wanted us to sign a contract and pay a four to five figure euro amount for compiling the statistics. Moreover, this was supposed to take several months. So we downloaded every single PDF, manually cropped them to the pages with the tables, and then extracted the data as CSVs. Since the tables were designed differently in some years, we could only merge the data into a common database via manual and R-assisted cleanup to finally do the analysis. We are convinced that it is our task as data journalists to also make freely available data usable for all people. Because this data could be viewed by anyone, but each PDF was very long and complex, one for each month of the year, and all placed in individual subfolders of the page. Our extra work compiled the data and put it in context for all to interpret.
What can others learn from this project?
This project shows that playful approaches work very well for topics that might otherwise be more unloved. Germany is a car country, and although awareness of sustainable lifestyles is growing, many people don’t want to do without them. Election data even suggests that the typical environmental party voter likes to drive up to the health food store in an SUV. What’s more, this project has shown that one should not be deterred by uncooperative authorities and threats of large sums of money. Sometimes it is even more worthwhile to do the manual work and free the data.