Polar Bear Pics are Out as Climate Changers Change Visual Message

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.

Polar bear, Arctic
Polar bear, Arctic. Photo by ROB TARR – www.fb.com/robtarrphoto

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 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

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