Nine climate change pictures I really don't need to see again
- 15 Jun 2012, 13:00
- Christian Hunt
Finding good images to illustrate climate change is hard. First
up, the topic has so many abstract concepts - computer models,
uncertain climate impacts, future scenarios.
What image perfectly and pithily illustrates uncertainty in
climate projections, for example?
Secondly, there are some pictures which have been used to much
that they have become rather devalued. Not worth a thousand words,
certainly. Maybe just four: "Oh dear, not again."
Finally, there are images which get used because they push
people's buttons, but don't really help unpack the topic. Polar
bears on ice, burning planets - they're cliches, that you can't
rely on to inform and explain.
So seeing as it's Friday, here are 9 climate change images I
probably don't need to see again:
(Probably a stock photo.)
Climate change will probably cause droughts that will affect
people in hats. Yep, got that.
Climate change will 'strand' polar bears on melting ice. This is
undoubtedly the one image that sums up climate change better than
Except polar bears can swim. And ice melts every year. And
this photo was taken in summer.
Parking for a moment the effect that
climate change is having on the Arctic, let's just agree that
this photo doesn't really tell us that much (similarly,
many others like it) and move on.
from the Future
London: Underwater. The thing about sea level rise is, no matter
how cathartic it might be to see the government under water, the UK
is basically rich enough to make sure this doesn't happen.
Images which show something familiar transformed do rather suggest
that its is something you might wake up one morning and actually
see, rather than (hopefully) a bad scenario in a future that
is beyond our lifetimes.
Probably a stock photo - (yes, it's backwards) - it has spread
across the internet like a weed.
I'm not sure why I don't like this widely used image, but I
think it might be that it's too subtle.
What is it saying? Something about the planet being on fire? And
also held in the palm of your hand? Perhaps if you're holding the
planet in the palm of your hand, and it's on fire, you should drop
it? Or put it in some water? Maybe the point is that it's your
responsibility to stop the planet burning? Oh, I don't know.
Here, ice is melting. It could be in the Arctic, or it could be in
Scotland. Props to the Guardian, though -
around. It's not just the Guardian, either. Whoever
took the photo
raking it in.
Communicating the fact that climate change will be disruptive to
human society while not overplaying the science is hard. What to
do? Focus on specific, easy to remember facts. Like, as successive
IPCC reports haven't shown, climate change will turn you into a
fish wearing a terrible shirt.
Oh dear WWF Belgium.
Fact: These days, sometimes writing about climate change means
writing about the University of East Anglia. Problem: UEA
isn't the most photogenic campus. Solution: ...
More of a category this, and a crime we're almost certainly guilty
of on occasion - the impenetrable diagram. What does it show?
No-one reading knows. Where is it explained?
It isn't. Why should you care? You probably shouldn't.
even once is too much.
So what's the answer?
Well, perhaps it's just too tricky to communicate about
complicated subjects like climate change using crude
images. To really get the message across, perhaps a richer,
more subtle medium is necessary?
Barry Chernoff, a professor of
environmental studies at Wesleyan University in Middletown,
Connecticut, is teaching his students to boogie their climate cares
away with his interpretive dance class, "Feet to the Fire: The Art
and Science of Global Warming."
Limber up, climate
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