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WIREs Clim Change
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Climate change and visual imagery

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Many actors—including scientists, journalists, artists, and campaigning organizations—create visualizations of climate change. In doing so, they evoke climate change in particular ways, and make the issue meaningful in everyday discourse. While a diversity of climate change imagery exists, particular types of climate imagery appear to have gained dominance, promoting particular ways of knowing about climate change (and marginalizing others). This imagery, and public engagement with this imagery, helps to shape the cultural politics of climate change in important ways. This article critically reviews the nascent research area of the visual representations of climate change, and public engagement with visual imagery. It synthesizes a diverse body of research to explore visual representations and engagement across the news media, NGO communications, advertising, and marketing, climate science, art, and virtual reality systems. The discussion brings together three themes which occur throughout the review: time, truth, and power. The article concludes by suggesting fruitful directions for future research in the visual communication of climate change. WIREs Clim Change 2014, 5:73–87. doi: 10.1002/wcc.249

Conflict of interest: The authors have declared no conflicts of interest for this article.

A focus on the three moments of the visual communication cycle, placing the literature drawn upon for this review within one (or more) of these moments. The color shading is as for Figure (moment of production in blue, moment of the image in green, moment of consumption in red).
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The three ‘moments’ for climate visuals within the communications cycle: the moment of production (blue), the moment of the (visual) text (green), and the moment of consumption (red). Each loop describes a particular component of the cycle, with the first loop identifying the questions of the communications process that may be asked at each moment (darkest shade); the second loop outlining the methods that may be used to answer such questions (mid shade); and the third loop the types (of producers, visual images, consumers) that can be seen in each moment (lightest shade). Although the schematic starts with the moment of production (‘producers x’ box), note how any point on this circuit can be a starting point, informed of by what has previously occurred.
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Scientific images are not value free—this image has caused much controversy for the IPCC. © IPCC (2001:3). Original caption: Variations of the Earth's surface temperature for the past 1000 years. The year by year (blue curve) and 50 year average (black curve) variations of the average surface temperature of the Northern Hemisphere for the past 1000 years have been reconstructed from ‘proxy’ data calibrated against thermometer data (see list of the main proxy data in the diagram). The 95% confidence range in the annual data is represented by the gray region. These uncertainties increase in more distant times and are always much larger than in the instrumental record due to the use of relatively sparse proxy data. Nevertheless the rate and duration of warming of the 20th century has been much greater than in any of the previous nine centuries. Similarly, it is likely that the 1990s have been the warmest decade and 1998 the warmest year of the millennium. [Based upon (a) Chapter 2, Figure 2.7c and (b) Chapter 2, Figure 2.20, see http://www.ipcc.ch/ipccreports/tar/wg1/005.htm].
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Perceptions, Behavior, and Communication of Climate Change > Communication
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