2020 Topical Reporting: Climate Change finalist

How the climate’s changed since your childhood — and what you want to do about it


About the Project

Too often climate change is framed as an abstract problem, happening far away, well into the future — and this makes it hard for audiences to engage with the science and the reality of the biggest story of our time.

Story Lab made the decision to address that in an ongoing way, creating a series of stories that place the crisis in a context the audience understands.

To start, with “See how global warming has changed the world since your childhood”, we set out to shift the audience’s understanding of climate change from an abstract future problem to something that is deeply personal and is already impacting their lives.

We asked the audience to select the year they were born, allowing us to create a customised data visualisation of the change of temperature over their lifetime. This was a deliberate strategy to interrogate the common statement that ‘we had this weather when I was a child’.

Doing something about climate change is often framed as a massive challenge that humanity has yet to solve.

With “What you’d spend to prevent climate change — and what you could get with your money” we wanted to create a story that not only do solutions exist, but also there is a strong desire from the public to be a part of these solutions.

The piece is built off original public opinion research gathered by the ABC as part of a major survey into what Australians think, Australia Talks.

One of the questions we asked was how much more Australians would contribute to halt climate change. We took this figure, which amounts to a minimum of $4 billion a year, and used it for a thought exercise where we asked a group of experts what they would do with it.

Their suggestions were translated into a highly visual piece of data journalism that took the audience on a journey through all the possibilities this sort of money could unlock.

Our final piece of content (“How heat and drought turned Australia into a tinderbox”) aimed to place climate change within the reporting context of the unprecedented bushfires that devastated much of Australia over the summer.

Due to the complexity and toxic nature of reporting on climate change it is easy for reporters to fall into a binary of doing either climate focused reporting or not addressing it at all. We instead made a conscious choice to tell the story of the fire in a way that highlighted the role climate change played in the disaster, without shifting the focus solely to climate change.

As the world watched on in horror as Australia burned, we turned to satellite imagery to show how climate change created the extreme conditions that drove the deadly summer bushfires.

By doing our own analysis of satellite imagery over the fire season, we created a rigorous yet emotive piece that captured the scale and horror of the summer, and gave the audience a deep understanding of what climate change looks like now.