It’s out with the polar bear pictures and in with more varied images that represent climate change around the globe as it impacts on humans… as new research shows that the polar bear photos are no longer representative enough of the crisis facing all corners of the planet.
According to research by Climate Outreach, while the text written about climate change has evolved, the iconography has remained relatively static. The polar bear. And the occasional wind turbine.
The organisation undertook research with over 3,000 participants between the UK, Germany and the USA to discover that people need to see photos of ‘real people’, not staged photo-ops; they need new stories; they need photos that show the serious impact of climate change on ordinary people worldwide… from drought-stricken farmers in South Africa and grandmothers selling solar home-lighting systems in India, to children suffering allergies in the USA.
The research discovered the polar bear had became too iconic… and his plight seemed too far away for most people, distancing them from the climate change crisis. The polar bears and other ‘classic’ images like wind turbines are met nowadays with more cynicism and fatigue. And protest images only really appeal to protestors, and distance others.
Paul Sunters, who’s worked in image management for World Wildlife Fund (WWF) for over 15 years, explained how the polar bear became the ‘poster boy’ for climate change as the science on their vulnerability started to develop just over 10 years ago…. but says he’s a “little ashamed to admit” that he too had become “rather fed up with the limited visual vocabulary for climate”.
He says: “Whilst polar bears are most certainly magical creatures, I felt I could die happily without seeing another photo of one on shrinking ice. Without ever seeing another photo of a wind turbine either.”
He says the same would’ve happened if the polar bear’s image had been replaced with that of another animal… although, none of the other threatened animals could quite compete visually.
It’s time now for a whole new collection of images and visuals that help people identify with the plight of the planet, and motivate them to want to take positive action. A new Climate Visuals Galleries has been launched to help media spread a new visual story. Below is an example of some of the more powerful images that Climate Change journalists and campaigners are being urged to use in the future:
This image shows the human dimensions of the aftermath of a natural disaster. Our research suggests that showing the impacts of climate change on children can provoke strong emotions. WHAT IT SHOWS: A young boy drags some bottles through the flooded streets of Metro Manila on 28 September 2009 after typhoon Ketsana hit the Philippines. Photo by ADB (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) #climate #climatechange #climatevisuals #climatechangeisreal #everydayclimatechange #flooding #flood #phillippines #typhoon
This image shows the harmful consequences of electronic waste. It tells a human story by illustrating potential health impacts, and shows the contribution of consumer electronics to climate change, even at the end of its lifecycle. WHAT IT SHOWS: Burning of computer wire and parts to recover copper and other metals in Accra, Ghana. The computers are shipped here from Europe and the USA and some are reused but majority are dumped in Ghana. Poor workers often from the northern poorer region of Ghana do the work and sell the copper to buyers who send the copper to China or India. Photo by Peter Essick (©) with our partners @auphotos #climate #climatechange #climatevisuals #climatechangeisreal #everydayclimatechange #waste
In this surreal-looking image, a dust storm covers the city. Our discussion group findings suggest that images like this – which draw you in with an unusual and striking central feature – are likely to resonate with viewers. WHAT IT SHOWS: A dust cloud envelopes a city during a storm. Photo by Zooey (CC BY-SA 2.0) #climate #climatechange #climatevisuals #climatechangeisreal #everydayclimatechange #duststorm #storm #apocalypse
Our research found that showing people in a meaningful interaction with low-carbon technologies is the best way to showcase them. WHAT IT SHOWS: Ethiopia, Hirin. A woman placing the portable solar panel she uses to recharge her mobile phone and lamp on the roof of her cabin. Photo by Alessandro Gandolfi(©) from our partners at @auphotos #climate #climatechange #climatevisuals #climatechangeisreal #everydayclimatechange #solar #solarpower
This is a powerful, otherwordly image that might help people envision a climate-affected future, especially in places where the effects of climate change are not easily visualised. WHAT IT SHOWS: Apocalyptic vision of Sydney shrouded in red dust blown in by winds from the deserts of the outback. Photo by Christophe Launay (©) #climate #climatechange #climatevisuals #climatechangeisreal #everydayclimatechange #sydney #duststorm #australia