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The role of visual images in communicating climate change


Visual images and representations such as photographs, maps, drawings, symbols and three-dimensional representations play a critical role in enhancing climate change knowledge and understanding.

guest column: PETER MAKWANYA

These are also considered powerful ways of facilitating the climate story, as they have the power to engage the mind and appeal to people’s five senses.

Climate change visuals and images play an experiential or schematic role in inclusive ways for facilitating life skills.

Visuals and images, either horrific or plain, influence our thinking and shape our emotions towards how we feel about climate change.

While horrific images have the power to change human behaviour, they also can raise awareness and inspire people to engage in concrete climate action. Climate action is the underlying factor in sustainable mitigation and adaptation activities.

Climate change visuals and images are, therefore, powerful links to people’s daily lives and experiences. They also help us interrogate the way we engage in climate change issues, in terms of guidance, application and facilitation.

Images can help communicate climate issues, not in the abstract sense, but in concrete and real terms.

The salient features of images are centred on how they capture the people’s attention and can serve as a call to action.

Common images such as those of pollution can capture people’s attention and spur them to act.

Climate change images and visuals help to enforce a sense of urgency in changing people’s behaviours, attitudes and perceptions, as well as some deeply entrenched myths and beliefs.

A holistic approach to climate change visuals and images, provide people with chances to actively participate in making informed decisions about their roles in climate protection, for example, people can be more cognisant of reducing their carbon footprints.

The endorsement of climate change action by politicians and celebrities could help show that climate change is a serious issue that requires immediate attention.

Climate change visuals and images are also important in that they promote both external and internal motivation of how best to deal with the climate change phenomena.

When used well, climate change visuals and images can work as part of a bigger communication strategy, which helps people visualise climate change and what part they can play in mitigating its effects.

Visual representations are extremely encompassing and inclusive in terms of capturing the sensory properties that are vital to climate change action in order to promote willingness to engage various participatory methodologies.

In this regard, it is also clear that there are challenges of communicating climate change information to a largely non-scientific audience. Although this appears to be a major stumbling block, climate change visuals and images help tone down the challenges and information gaps to non-scientific audiences.

Visuals and images also help to communicate large amounts of data in graphic and pictorial representations to sustainably derive the climate point home.

It is also important to note that colour plays an important role in enhancing the power and appreciation of visuals, as they are, in themselves, interactive in nature, content and scope.

Both form and content of visuals play a critical role in climate change communication. Climate change visuals and images should be able to bring the desired climate action to various audiences.

Peter Makwanya is a Climate change communicator. He writes in his own capacity and can be contacted on: petrovmoyt@gmail.com

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