Seven principles for visual climate change communication
Every day, thousands of images of climate change are shared around the world. But while research on the verbal and written communication of climate change has proliferated, the iconography of climate change has remained relatively static. This report summarises the research of climate change visuals and presents the key findings so that practitioners can take an evidence-based approach to visual communication.
More than melting ice and polar bears
The imagery used to communicate climate change can and should be more diverse than polar bears and melting ice. Climate Visuals takes the first steps towards helping communicators tell a better visual story about climate change:
- Show 'real people' not staged photo-ops: A person expressing an authentic and identifiable emotion is powerful.
- Tell new stories: Melting ice and polar bears may be useful for audiences with limited knowledge or interest in climate change, but they also evoke cynicism and fatigue. Less familiar and more thought-provoking images can help to tell a new sotry about climate change.
- Show climate causes at scale: People do not necessarily understand the links between climate change and their daily lives. If communicating the links between 'problematic' behaviours and climate change, it is best to show these behaviours at scale (e.g. a congested highway, rather than a single driver).
- Climate impacts are emotionally powerful: Images of climate impacts can prompt a desire to respond, but because they are emotionally powerful, they can also be overwhelming. Coupling images of climate impacts with a concrete behavioural ‘action’ for people to take can help overcome this.
- Show local (but serious) climate impacts: When images of localised climate impacts show an individual person or group of people, with identi able emotions, they are likely to be most powerful.
- Be very careful with protest imagery: Most people do not feel an affinity with climate change protesters, so images of protests may reinforce the idea that climate change is for ‘them’ rather than ‘us’. Protest images involving people directly affected by climate impacts were seen as more authentic and therefore more compelling.
- Understand your audience: Images depicting ‘solutions’ to climate change generated mostly positive emotions – for those on the political right, as well as those on the left.
The research methodology of Climate Visuals
The research which underpins Climate Visuals is based on stakeholder interviews with academics and practioniers from the UK, Europe and the US, discussion groups with 32 participants and an international online survey 3014 participants.
Source: Corner, A., Webster, R. & Teriete, C. (2015). Climate Visuals: Seven principles for visual climate change communication (based on international social research). Oxford: Climate Outreach.