Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Extreme weather images in the media cause fear and disengagement with climate change

AlphaGalileo via Taylor & Francis: The paper ‘ Images of Extreme Weather: Symbolising Human Responses to Climate Change’, by Brigitte Nerlich & Rusi Jaspal, published in Science as Culture, reveals that extreme weather images represent human suffering and loss. They are iconic of climate change and are symbols of its natural impacts.

Reporting on extreme weather has increased over the last few years. In the past social scientists, and media and communication analysts have studied how climate change is depicted in the text of media and social media. While researchers have become increasingly interested in climate change images, they have not yet studied them with respect to symbolising certain emotions.

The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published a draft report on extreme weather and climate change adaptation. The report was covered in the news and illustrated with images. Some of these depicted ‘extreme weather’, in particular with relation to floods, droughts and heat waves, hurricanes and ice/sea-level rise.

Researchers studied images published in the news to illustrate their coverage of the IPCC report. They used visual thematic analysis, examining the way they might symbolise certain emotional responses, such as compassion, fear, guilt, vulnerability, helpless, courage or resilience.

...New research has shown that images of extreme weather in the media create negative emotional meanings and might lead to disengagement with the issue of climate change. The images symbolised fear, helplessness and vulnerability and, in some cases, guilt and compassion. Appealing to fear of disaster can lead to denial and paralysis rather than positive behaviour change.

The research confirmed: “There is no indication of victimhood or desperation, but rather a mundane sense of routine. Crucially, these images represent flooding as a distant phenomenon, with which viewers are not invited or necessarily encouraged to identify. For readers in the West such images may not symbolise, or indeed convey, compassion...”....

A 1907 flood in Kofu, Japan 

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