Carbon Story’s “World Under Water” interactive campaign

Student Work

The campaign:

World Under Water is an online campaign prepared for Carbon Story, a crowdfunding website dedicated to environmental projects; it has been up and running since May 2014 and was set up in the context of the UNEP World Environment Day 2014 (06/05/2014), directly echoing its motto: “Raise your voice, not the sea level !”.

The video displayed above is an introduction to the campaign, however it is highly recommended that you check out the actual website by yourself.

Indeed, it is all about participative visualization as the user has a chance to explore various global cities and world heritage landmarks as if the seas would have arisen up to their worst 2100 predicted level. Furthermore, on toolbar allows the user to go to any address of his/her choice to observe the impact of climate change on known neighborhood.

The user has then the possibility to “take action”, that is: he or she is redirected towards Carbon Story’s very own website.

The story behind:

Carbon Story is a young joint venture (started late 2012) by three tech-savvy, PhD holders teaching about environmental issues in South-East Asia; even today it remains a business operated at a modest intensity and mostly by volunteers. Carbon Story’s rationale for action is simple: it allows you to calculate your own carbon footprint and then it offers to crowdfund projects allowing you to offset this footprint for a given period of time.

In short, they have the best intentions and a business model that is not a predatory one – to say the least. This is maybe why they called in the Big Guns to help them gaining visibility. Indeed, they used their local network to reach out Proximity in Singapore, which in turn rang the New York and San Francisco teams of BBDO (both agencies are property of Omnicom, the second largest communication group behind WPP). In the end, what started as a geeky way of doing things took the shape of a massively legible, global campaign.

Indeed BBDO put a great effort into it and was able to use Google’s data of StreetView mapping, thus attracting a John Doe-like crowd who just wanted to see “how it is” rather than only people interested in the UNEP World Environment Day.

Did it work?

Yes it did! The campaign initiated by a small crowdfunding platform in Singapore ended up having a global outreach (it is featured on this blog after all) and was awarded during prestigious tech events such as the SXSW. It was a win-win for all parties involved, Carbon Story raising its profile, Omnicom showcasing its skills and the World Environment Day, needing, as many UN campaigns, to gain some visibility..

But is it a good tool to visualize climate change?

Here a more nuanced opinion is allowed; the result counts as well as the processes. Benefits for all parties have been acknowledged it brings some food for thought to the table; a technical component resonating with both new, easily accessible, technologies (StreetView) are well a global potential outreach (many locations, easily shareable on social networks) are assets to spread the word on climate and should credited to World Under Water.

However, and trying to avoid the usual blame game where “corporate interests are always beating the common good”, there are issues with this campaign.

Living outside of North America and South-East, just try to type in your address: you may end up with a black screen, as your address has not been mapped. This reveals the major flaw of the campaign: it could have combined the good (and true) will of Carbon Story with a powerful pedagogical tool. It could have pushed the “one event-one shot” campaign logic beyond the brinks and established a reference website for individual experience-based attempts at raising awareness on climate change.

But in the end, this is a just website that is going to be lost in depth of the internet after a while, and I have the intuition that the folks at Carbon Story partly regret it.

Up to anyone with the skills and the interest to bolster the website with more precise data and to make it a reliable tool to understand the rise of sea levels.


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