“Climate Change Had An Image Problem And We Set Out To Change That”

The climate crisis of today is so pressing that it is easy to suppose that just about any climate change-related image is enough to touch people and make them aware of the magnitude of the problem. However, it’s a trap. Things are far more complicated.

This is an interview with Dr Adam Corner, research director of the only evidence-based climate images database in the world: Climate Visuals.

Screenshot from https://www.climatevisuals.org/images

In the times when visual content is the most dominant form of communication, people have grown sensitive to the context and the presentation of images. Modern spectators are always on guard if what they are looking at is authentic, trustworthy, and something they can relate to.

In that context, climate change images are crucially important, especially when you consider that most people spend much more time looking at their screens than watching their surroundings. Whether we like it or not, the digital image has become the bearer of the truth.

With all of that taken into account, it becomes clear that effective visual presentation of climate change becomes a key to successful climate communication.

Climate Visuals are here to help with that, in an empirically-sound manner. Founded by Europe’s largest climate communication organisation, Climate Outreach, Climate Visuals is the largest specialised climate change image library and more than that. It offers guidance and advice on how to visually present climate change, especially through their enlightening 7 Climate Visuals Principles.

In their own words:

Climate Visuals aims to strategically change the working practices of influential visual communicators across the world, to catalyse a new — more compelling and diverse — visual language for climate change

We talked about the ideas behind Climate Visuals with Dr Adam Corner, the Climate Visuals Team’s Research Director.

How did the idea to form Climate Visuals come about?

Adam: When we were doing a piece of work with some other climate communication specialists in the UK, we realised that, while we had lots to say about how to frame messages and develop effective language-based communication, there was hardly any research on imagery.

Plus, we were getting sick of the same old climate cliches in imagery — melting ice, smokestacks, polar bears, and arrays of solar panels with no people anywhere in sight! We figure climate change had an image problem and set out to change that with Climate Visuals.

You define Climate Visuals is an “evidence-based image library.”. Can you elaborate a bit on the evidence-based library idea?

Adam: It is evidence-based because we carried out social research with more than 3000 people in 3 countries to provide an evidence base for selecting climate images in campaigns and other types of communication.

We surveyed people from three countries online, with people seeing a set of six images (either climate causes, climate impacts or climate solutions). We ran four discussion groups which allowed us to dive deeper into people’s views and perceptions and create the basis of the programme.

What was the most significant result of your research, as well as your most interesting finding?

Adam: By combining the two methods, we published an academic paper in a leading journal, produced a report outlining the 7 principles, and created the Climate Visuals website which now has about 600 searchable images in its library.

As for the findings, for example, we found that images of “everyday” and relatable people were more effective in engaging the public than politicians or protestors. That is why there are lots of images of ‘everyday’ people in the Climate Visuals library.

What is especially interesting is your warning about using protest images. Your research has shown that they often trigger negative reactions — people perceive “just typical environmentalists” in those pictures and not something they can relate to. That is something we all have an opportunity to observe in real-life comments of environmentalist’s actions.

How do you think has this animosity towards “environmentalists” developed? Isn’t it a bit ironic that people do not see someone who is trying to protect their environment as somebody who is on their side?

Adam: We are certainly not suggesting people shouldn’t protest, or demonstrate. However, if protests are often about creating a sense of public momentum, then we need to think carefully about who ‘represents’ climate change in protest images.

We found people were much more positive towards protestors who they could see were directly impacted by climate change in some way, or who were from authentic communities (rather than in comedy costumes or with their faces painted as if they were at a festival).

I agree it is a little surprising — and concerning — that perceptions of environmentalists are not more positive, but perhaps the climate community needs to foreground a greater diversity of people who can visually represent the movement in the public eye and ensure it doesn’t get treated as something marginal.

Your gallery has an opportunity to host many striking photographs from award-winning photographers…

Adam: We have worked with a number of professional photographers through leading agencies such as Magnum, Aurora, Panos and aif. We’re working on a partnership with Getty Images too, so watch this space! We are trying to build connections with key players throughout the ‘ecosystem’ of climate change imagery (photographers, photo agencies, campaigners and the media).

Do you have any big plans for the future?

Adam: The next big project for us is working with the IPCC to identify effective and engaging imagery for use with their forthcoming Special Report around the “1.5 degrees” target. This is a really exciting opportunity to help put a relatable, human face on the biggest climate science organisation in the world by applying our evidence-based approach to climate communication, to the communication of climate science.

We encourage you to browse through the stunning Climate Visuals image library.

This is how it works to obtain an image from Climate Visuals

  1. Browse https://www.climatevisuals.org/images for images . You can choose Theme or Collection.
Screenshot from https://www.climatevisuals.org/images choosing Collection and then laif (stock photo).

2. Read about the facts and conditions for obtaining the image

Screenshot fromhttps://www.climatevisuals.org/images showing photographer Peter van Agtmael‘s ’image of staff in Venice, L.A. (US) cleaning a pelican from BP (British Petroleum) oil spill (2010). Rights: Magnum Photos.

3. Obtain the image

Written by: Katarina Samurović


Facts about Adam Corner

Besides coordinating the research on visual perception of climate change for the organization, Adam is an Honorary Research Fellow in the School of Psychology at Cardiff University, author of many academic papers and media articles, and the lead author of a book “Talking Climate: From Research to Practice in Public Engagement”.

In spite of all the work, Adam was kind enough to take some time to answer our questions.
Facts about We Don’t Have Time

We Don’t Have Time is currently building the world’s largest social media network for climate action. 
Together we can solve the climate crisis. 
But we are running out of time. 
Sign up for our newsletter at WeDontHaveTime.org
Join the movement by reading our manifest, following the blog and taking action to battle climate change. Or simply just enjoy seeing our impact and reach develop here and here.

Another We Don’t Have Time Climate Conference will air on Earth Day 2019. 
Get more videos and information about the 2018 conference here
And please drop us a line if you want to send us your idea for a theme for a keynote, a speaker or panel member before then. See you on 22 April 2019!

Web site: www.wedonthavetime.org


Facts about We Don’t Have Time

We Don’t Have Time are currently building the world’s largest social media network for climate action. 
Together we can solve the climate crisis. 
But we are running out of time. 
Sign up for our newsletter at WeDontHaveTime.org
Join the movement by reading our manifest, following the blog and taking action to battle climate change. Or simply just enjoy seeing our impact and reach develop here and here.

On Earth Day 2019 another We Don’t Have Time Climate Conference will air. 
Get more videos and information about the 2018 conference here
And please drop us a line if you want to forward your idea of a theme for a keynote, a speaker, panel member until then. See you April 22 2019!

Web site: www.wedonthavetime.org