Public Opinion and Political Participation in the Climate Change Debate
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You might be interested in Can video bridge science and policy? In terms of engaging wider audiences, one problematic feature of climate imagery is the absence of human stories : on the whole, it does not show the impact of climate change on ordinary people. Every day, thousands of photographs of climate change are shared.
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When humans are depicted in these, politicians dominate, followed by public figures such as celebrities, protesters and scientists. Research shows that images of politicians are often disliked , met with scepticism , and can make people feel that climate change is not important and that they themselves can do little about it.
Images of stereotypical protesters and publicity stunts can elicit similar responses, and are disliked across the political spectrum. On a wider scale, such figureheads frame climate change as a political and ideological struggle, which can enhance polarisation along political lines and alienate those who do not identify with the groups. Candid photos of ordinary people dealing with the impacts of climate change elicit stronger reactions than staged photos.
If the person depicted makes direct eye contact with the camera, it can be a powerful way to connect to the audience. In order to build public engagement, climate change communication must shift the issue from one focussed on science and politics, to one centred around people — and the presence of human stories in photographic portrayals of climate change is a crucial part of this. Of all the types of images being used in climate communication, the most frequently seen are those that depict the impacts of climate change e.
Public-perception research has shown that seeing the impacts of climate change can lead people to think that climate change is an important issue, but possibly at the expense of feelings of self-efficacy the belief that they can do something about it. When climate impacts appear overwhelming, they can lead to unhelpful emotional responses such as fear, hopelessness, and apathy.
Knowledge of climate solutions has been found to increase feelings of efficacy, and elicit positive emotions such as enthusiasm and excitement.
Some studies have found that solutions are linked a lower sense of urgency to act , but researchers are still investigating this. Pairing emotionally evocative impact images with corresponding solutions might allow audiences to balance their negative emotions, and even channel them towards feasible and accessible behaviours.
Another approach is to show local but serious impacts of climate change. Research has shown that such images are not only relatable but also help viewers retain a sense of the importance of the issue. The key is to balance the relevance of the image to the audience without trivialising the greater problem of global climate change.
Climate communicators are divided about what has become perhaps the most iconic of all climate images — photographs of polar bears. In addition, image research shows that photographs people found less familiar, but which presented new perspectives on climate change, were seen as more engaging and thought-provoking.
How are images of climate change communicated and perceived in different countries and cultures? Adam is the Research Director for Climate Outreach.