Our research found that images that participants could quickly and easily understand – such as ‘smoke-stacks’, deforestation, and polar bears on melting ice – tended to be positively rated in our online survey (which captured rapid responses to images, rather than deeper debate). These familiar, ‘classic’ images may be especially useful for audiences with limited knowledge or interest in climate change, but they also prompted cynicism and fatigue in our discussion groups. They are effective ways of communicating to an audience that ‘this story is about climate change’. But is it a story they want to hear? Less familiar (and more thought-provoking) images can help tell a new story about climate change, and remake the visual representation of climate change in the public mind.
Use these images to open up, rather than close-down the visual story of climate change. They may not be as readily associated with climate change as ‘classic’ images such as polar bears, but they can help to re-make the visual meaning of climate change in the public mind.