• 07.16.13

Watch A City Decide Its Low-Carbon Future On This Awesome Website

In order to make climate change scenarios more accessible to the public, Future Bristol Low Carbon 2050 asks visitors to explore competing visions for a cleaner future.

Watch A City Decide Its Low-Carbon Future On This Awesome Website

One of the issues with engaging people in climate change issues is that talking about it can quickly get really depressing and really boring. Sometimes, the solutions seem so wonky and complex that the idea of making anything better feels futile without a global legislative overhaul. Other times, solutions that require individual actions seem like they’d be meaningless without collective will. But once in awhile, you come across ideas like this awesomely visual interactive website, which asks visitors to explore two visions of a future Bristol, U.K.


Would you prefer a future in which homes are powered by their own microgenerators? What about more collective ownership of energy? More high-rise buildings? Or what about more space to farm local food? Rose Bailey introduced Bristol’s Scenario X and Scenario Y in February 2013, after she completed a Ph.D. on what Bristol, historically a major port city, might look like in 2050.

“I wanted to develop the project further and look at public engagement and how the results of this Ph.D. might be communicated,” she says. So she met with 150 local leaders to discuss what their options might be. Then Bailey, supported by the Bristol City Council, took a vision of two cities to a local design firm and Andy Council, a Bristol street artist (after all, the city is the original home of Banksy), to come up with the Future Bristol site.

“It’s been really interesting,” she says. “Pretty much everyone says that they prefer Scenario Y, which is the more low-tech, sustainable, resilient future. It’s much more about re-localizing the way that we live.”

Both scenarios include the low carbon overlap. Scenario X might go with the more business-as-usual option, like including more efficient high-rises and still favoring cars as the primary mode of transportation, but also asks that electricity become totally decarbonized through nuclear power and clean carbon capture technology. Scenario Y, meanwhile, calls for more focus on rural areas to generate biofuels, homes with super-fast Internet connections, better public transportation, and a more even distribution of employment sectors across the city.

“Scenario Y is more about a fundamental shift about the way that we live and the way that society works instead of continuing the way we are now and changing the technology,” Bailey says.

Bailey also notes that tidal power, microgeneration, and improved mass transit received lots of votes. She plans to continue to engage Bristol on these options through another major public engagement project for the city–though she can’t yet reveal what that is.

“If you’re communicating these issues it needs to be fun and cool and desirable,” Bailey says. “People have a lot of friends who are not environmentalists. I didn’t want to have a website that was plastered with messages and lecturing everybody.”

About the author

Sydney Brownstone is a Seattle-based former staff writer at Co.Exist. She lives in a Brooklyn apartment with windows that don’t quite open, and covers environment, health, and data.