Warming up The Economist’s global audience to a zero-carbon future
How can humanity get to a zero-carbon future? As the focus of a recent audience engagement project at The Economist, this topic prompted a deep and productive debate across our online platforms.
We regularly pick a long article, or a special report, as the basis for an online conversation with our audience. Previous examples include the “Puteens”, a multimedia project on young Russians, and a crowd-sourced bibliography on the literature of liberalism, compiled from hundreds of audience responses as part of our Open Future initiative.
November’s Technology Quarterly report on conquering carbon dioxide seemed like a good subject for a similar project. Climate change is a global problem, and as a newspaper with a global outlook and audience, we wanted to invite readers around the world to give us their perspectives on how to address it.
Based on the topics explored in the TQ, we drew up six big questions, such as: “Is your country investing enough in renewable energy?”. We then adapted these into a variety of elements, including posts on LinkedIn, polls on Twitter, discussions in Facebook groups, a Medium letter and a chunk in our Daily Dispatch newsletter. Henry Tricks, the author of the TQ, also answered questions from readers in an AMA on Reddit.
This extra social activity led to more than 900 comments and emails from our audience, reached 2m people across Facebook and Twitter and got more than 10,000 votes on Twitter polls. The responses were generally longer and more considered than those we would get to our posts that just link to our articles. Readers commented from countries such as the Dominican Republic, Ecuador and Denmark, and ranged from students to chemical engineers, to Ethiopia’s ambassador to America, Fitsum Arega:
To capitalise on the global nature of our audience, we asked: “Which projects, businesses or policies around the world that seek to generate zero-carbon electricity are you most excited about?” We asked respondents to name the project, specify its location and provide some information about it. After collating more than 100 suggestions, we picked 15 of the best to plot on an interactive map (above), using a tool provided by KnightLab.
And because our Facebook Group was already heavily engaged in the zero-carbon topic, we then posted the map there so that members could continue their conversation with the map as context.
The Economist was founded in 1843 to engage in a “severe contest” between intelligence and ignorance, and we see this kind of project—hosting civil conversations around big ideas—as an important the modern-day continuation of that mission.