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Visualising Climate Change

Funder: UK Research and InnovationProject code: ES/K001175/1
Funded under: ESRC Funder Contribution: 172,039 GBP

Visualising Climate Change

Description

This Future Research Leader project aims to increase understanding of the representations and power of visual imagery for engaging people with climate change. Every day, images evoking climate change are created and made meaningful in the public arena. These images influence our thoughts and feelings about the climate issue, and can even influence our policy choices on climate change. But images are not neutral. Images (or particular types of images) which gain dominance promote particular ways of knowing about climate change, whilst marginalising others. These insights are important, as particular ways of knowing about climate change support (or inhibit) particular science-society-policy interactions. Yet little research critically examines the visual representations of climate change in either mass or new media; or how the power of visual images can be used to engage people with climate change. The project builds on a pilot project undertaken by the PI. First, climate change images were collected from US, UK and Australian newspapers over a year, and thematically analysed. The analysis identified broad patterns in coverage across all newspapers, with visuals dominated by identifiable people, or by images of climate protest, climate impacts or the causes of climate change. There is very little imagery of climate solutions - such as images of renewable energy, food production or consumption, householder mitigation, or community adaptation. These newspapers images contribute to a dominant framing of climate change as contested and politicised, and as an issue distant to everyday practice and experience. Imagery which empowers, ignites deeper debate or opens up spaces for creating future visions is rare. In the second pilot phase, a subset of these images were used in a series of workshops in Australia, the UK and the US to explore public engagement with climate imagery. The results indicate that the very images that most disengage are the ones most featured in the mass media; and that images which do promote feelings of issue importance, or a sense of being able to act, are the ones least featured. The Future Research Leader project will build on this analysis in an interdisciplinary, internationally-comparative and multi-phase fashion to: Part A: collect and critically analyse a diverse corpus of visual imagery: (i) from UK, US and Australian mass media sources in a longitudinal study (2000 - 2011) (ii) from new media sources (using innovative new media tools) Part B: explore how participant-created images can engage and empower people to imagine different climate futures, in the context of adaptation to sea-level rise. The project makes links to international research leaders in the social dimensions of climate change, through the project partner (University of Melbourne) and the two projects collaborators (University of Colorado-Boulder and American University). Outcomes from Part A include a critical understanding of how climate change imagery is used in public fora; of interest to academics, practitioners and policy makers working in public engagement with climate change. Part B will contribute to improved methods of decision-making in adaptation, an outcome of interest to international academic and policy communities. As well as dissemination through national and international collaborative visits and conference presentations, the project will draw together emerging research in this nascent area through an interdisciplinary conference panel on 'Visualising Climate Change'; with papers presented at the session intended for a journal Special Issue. Results will be communicated beyond academic audiences through the project website and blog, and through a public exhibit 'Seeing the Climate'. The project will contribute to an emerging research area in the environmental social sciences, strengthening the PI's position as a future research leader in the social science of climate change.

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