Voicemails From the Future: Great Tools for Making Climate Local

This morning I hid a voicemail from the future.

Or I happened to be present when the message from a warmer future leaked backwards in time, and landed in Canal Park in Southeast DC. Take your pick of realities. I was helping out with Futurecoast, a newly launched alternate reality game that helps people explore how climate change might affect the everyday details of their lives, even down to the messages they leave for friends and family.

The voicemails appear as small DaVinci-esque abstract sculptures.  The FutureCoast site predicts the approximate time and place where they’ll arrive, and teams on the ground go out to search for them. Then the messages are decoded so that we can use them to try and piece together what the future looks like. For example, there’s one slightly skeevy robocall selling floating mobile homes to people who regularly get flooded out. I don’t blame them for letting that one go to voice mail!

My chronofall was at noon, and found less than 2 hours later:

FutureCoast strikes me as particularly interesting in contrast to a tool highlighted by Huffington Post a couple of days ago. The US Geological survey has put out a program that lets you see how high temperatures are expected to go, right where you live. I love USGS, and think they do great work with crowdsourcing and social media–Did You Feel It, for example, is an intuitive, easy-to-use tool for reporting local experience with earthquakes.

The NEX-DCP30 Viewer, on the other hand, will give you one piece of relatively abstract information. After “a few clicks.” In Celsius. (Unless it hangs up your browser, as it just did mine. So I still don’t know about Maryland, and I promise that I’ll never again compose a blog post in a browser window without backup.)

To be fair, I’m not sure that USGS actually intended to use NEX-DCP30 for outreach–Huffington Post may just have latched onto it because there are relatively few tools that really do make climate local, concrete, and easy to understand. What I love about FutureCoast is that you don’t have to translate temperature into what you really care about–how will this affect my community? How will this affect my family? How will we respond? No one knows the answers for sure, but it lets you speculate, and play with the possibilities.

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