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Keywords:

  • climate change communication;
  • visualization;
  • global warming;
  • justice and equity;
  • extreme weather;
  • renewable energy

Abstract

Against an academic and policy backdrop of interest in (and concerns about) the issue, this paper draws on a range of academic writing in various disciplines to explore visual strategies of climate change communication. The geographic scope of the investigation is the United Kingdom, with particular attention to recognizable icons of climate change in UK media and the images used in political campaigns. The paper is in two parts. The first part concentrates on various efforts to put a ‘face’ on the climate change issue, while part two suggests that weather and renewable energy are the dominant alternative motifs.

The paper draws a basic distinction between fear-laden representations of climate change and a variety of visual efforts to use so-called inspirational imagery. All of the images reviewed suggest an affirmative answer to the question in the title, there are multiple efforts underway to move beyond polar bears and represent climate change in more creative and meaningful ways. The bigger question addressed is one raised already by photographers as well as academics, i.e. whether documentary photography (rather than particular types of images) is the more fundamental issue. The answer in the paper is that photographs are no different from other visual images in their capacity to draw attention to messages. The challenge is to use visuals creatively, in ways that prompt positive engagement with climate change without enhancing public disengagement and fatalism. Copyright © 2010 Royal Meteorological Society