Visualising Climate Change

Lead Research Organisation: University of Exeter
Department Name: Geography

Abstract

This Future Research Leader project aims to increase understanding of the representations and power of visual imagery for engaging people with climate change. Every day, images evoking climate change are created and made meaningful in the public arena. These images influence our thoughts and feelings about the climate issue, and can even influence our policy choices on climate change. But images are not neutral. Images (or particular types of images) which gain dominance promote particular ways of knowing about climate change, whilst marginalising others. These insights are important, as particular ways of knowing about climate change support (or inhibit) particular science-society-policy interactions. Yet little research critically examines the visual representations of climate change in either mass or new media; or how the power of visual images can be used to engage people with climate change.

The project builds on a pilot project undertaken by the PI. First, climate change images were collected from US, UK and Australian newspapers over a year, and thematically analysed. The analysis identified broad patterns in coverage across all newspapers, with visuals dominated by identifiable people, or by images of climate protest, climate impacts or the causes of climate change. There is very little imagery of climate solutions - such as images of renewable energy, food production or consumption, householder mitigation, or community adaptation. These newspapers images contribute to a dominant framing of climate change as contested and politicised, and as an issue distant to everyday practice and experience. Imagery which empowers, ignites deeper debate or opens up spaces for creating future visions is rare. In the second pilot phase, a subset of these images were used in a series of workshops in Australia, the UK and the US to explore public engagement with climate imagery. The results indicate that the very images that most disengage are the ones most featured in the mass media; and that images which do promote feelings of issue importance, or a sense of being able to act, are the ones least featured.

The Future Research Leader project will build on this analysis in an interdisciplinary, internationally-comparative and multi-phase fashion to:

Part A: collect and critically analyse a diverse corpus of visual imagery:
(i) from UK, US and Australian mass media sources in a longitudinal study (2000 - 2011)
(ii) from new media sources (using innovative new media tools)

Part B: explore how participant-created images can engage and empower people to imagine different climate futures, in the context of adaptation to sea-level rise.

The project makes links to international research leaders in the social dimensions of climate change, through the project partner (University of Melbourne) and the two projects collaborators (University of Colorado-Boulder and American University).

Outcomes from Part A include a critical understanding of how climate change imagery is used in public fora; of interest to academics, practitioners and policy makers working in public engagement with climate change. Part B will contribute to improved methods of decision-making in adaptation, an outcome of interest to international academic and policy communities. As well as dissemination through national and international collaborative visits and conference presentations, the project will draw together emerging research in this nascent area through an interdisciplinary conference panel on 'Visualising Climate Change'; with papers presented at the session intended for a journal Special Issue. Results will be communicated beyond academic audiences through the project website and blog, and through a public exhibit 'Seeing the Climate'.

The project will contribute to an emerging research area in the environmental social sciences, strengthening the PI's position as a future research leader in the social science of climate change.

Planned Impact

Immediate Beneficiaries (within the 3yr lifetime of the project):
1. Stakeholders embedded within the ARC project 'Equitable local outcomes in adaptation to sea-level rise', including Local and State Government partners the East Gippsland Shire Council, Gippsland Coastal Board, Victorian Department of Planning and Community Development, Victorian Department of Sustainability and Environment and Wellington Shire Council are engaged with a view to the public policy and legislative impacts of the research. The project contributes towards evidence based policy-making in climate adaptation. Other local and regional stakeholders including property owners, local government officials, and land managers will also benefit through their input into an empowering deliberative process on an issue of some considerable regional importance and interest.

2. Practitioners in science communication will be interested in the findings from this project, as it relates to their professional practice in visually communicating climate science. These practitioners include Science Media Centres, Science Museums, professional networks like PCST (Public Communication of Science & Technology) and SDRN (Sustainable Development Research Network); as well as Arts and cultural organisations interested in climate change, including ClimARTe (www.climarte.org) and Tipping Point (www.tippingpoint.org.uk/).
3. Members of the public will be exposed to the research through multiple fora, including through the public engagement event planned, 'Seeing the Climate'; as well as through the project website and blog. This will contribute to increasing public awareness and understanding of climate change, and its social and cultural dimensions.

4. Local, Regional and National level Government organisations; community organisations; and museums seeking generalised 'responsive' advice will benefit from the PI's wider expertise in the social dimensions of climate change and environmental risk for evidence based policy-making.

Indirect Beneficiaries (including longer-term beneficiaries beyond this project):
5. UK Local Authorities, Government Departments and community organisations interested in improved methods of equitable decision-making about adaptation to sea-level rise will be interested in the broader outcomes of Part B. Networks to ensure this impact outcome will be developed through the ESRC project, as the PI is embedded back into the UK policy and practice landscape (she has been overseas since 2009). The experience and linkages made through the ESRC project will also act as a scoping study for a cross-cultural UK-Australian proposal examining the social dimensions of adaptation to sea-level rise.

6. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC; www.ipcc.ch/), the organisation which 'provides the world with a clear scientific view on the current state of knowledge in climate change and its potential environmental and socio-economic impacts', through contributions to knowledge in the social dimensions of climate change.

7. Academic beneficiaries beyond the PI's immediate discipline (including in both the physical sciences: Atmospheric Science, Oceanography, Ecology; as well as broader social sciences: Sociology, Psychology, English, Art & Design) through knowledge-sharing and communication of the importance of the interdisciplinary dimensions of climate change; potentially leading to the development and utilisation of new and innovative methodologies and cross-disciplinary approaches to addressing the issue of climate change.
 
Description This grant has generated significant new knowledge regarding how climate change is visually communicated, why certain types of visuals dominate (and conversely, which are missing), and what this means for the cultural politics of climate change. It has broken new ground by providing the first empirical evidence that visual content affects both media coverage, and public engagement, with climate change. This grant has developed theoretically grounded and methodologically innovative approaches for analysing visual climate change communication. As a Future Research Leader grant, it has established the PI as an authority in the field of climate change communication (evidenced through her Co-Editorship of a flagship project of the Oxford University Press 'Encyclopaedia of Climate Change Communication'), and as an internationally-leading expert in climate visuals (evidenced by invitations to speak at international conferences and to author review articles).

All original six objectives have been met (note, some grant outcomes occurred later due to two 14-month periods of maternity leave (2015-6 and 2017-8) during the time of the grant). O1, O2 and O3 set out to analyse how climate change has been represented in mass and social media (O'Neill 2013, O'Neill et al. 2015), how this has changed over time (O'Neill, in review), and how visual imagery is shaping the cultural politics of climate change (O'Neill and Smith 2014, O'Neill 2017). O4 was met using an innovative photo-elicitation method to elicit conversations about climate change adaptation, sea-level rise and flooding (O'Neill and Graham 2016). Impact was achieved, meeting O5 (see response below). For O6, the PI's profile as a research leader was raised through the FRL grant through significant scholarly outputs including high-impact journal publications, leadership of a conference panel at the Annual Royal Geographical Society Conference, and through the Editorship of a journal Focus Issue at Nature Climate Change.

The tools envisaged for accessing online imagery data were not used, as an opportune new collaboration was established with data scientist Dr Hywel Williams. This has opened up much more efficient and diverse opportunities for accessing online imagery. These opportunities are being realised through projects beyond the ESRC funding, as well as two co-supervised PhD studentships.

The project has contributed to improved research methods and skills being developed. First, the visual Q-method technique was adapted and refined, resulted in a well-cited publication (O'Neill et al. 2013). The Q-method materials were made available on the PI's website, which led to research teams applying the method to other national contexts (Switzerland, Germany, Austria: Metag et al., 2016, Sci. Comm.; US: Hart and Feldman 2016 Sci. Comm.; Ireland (project ongoing). The PI advised both the Swiss and Irish teams. Second, the photo-elicitation technique has sparked interest and development in the use of photo-elicitation as a valuable method for engaging people with climate change adaptation.

In summary, the grant has enabled the PI to both establish herself as a research leader, and to also help cement the nascent field of visual climate change communication as a key contributor to the cultural politics of climate change.
Exploitation Route The Pathways to Impact statement objectives have been met. Of particular mention is the video developed with the research participants in the flooding photo-elicitation work. The video has now been used as an academic video abstract (for O'Neill and Graham 2015) and widely distributed online. Additionally, the PI set up a website and Twitter account. Through these, she now has an active and engaged following of stakeholders including followers from media organisations, government, science communication organisations and academia. This Twitter feed has proven invaluable as a starting point for conversations on the co-production of research ideas, for engaging stakeholders with initial research results, and for linking the PI into giving responsive advice to government and community organisations (e.g. the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change on visual communication).

In summary, outcomes from this grant have been already been taken forward through direct contact with national (Met Office, Environment Agency) and international (IPCC, European Climate Foundation) stakeholders on engaging people through climate change imagery. Additional impact is likely through both forthcoming publications, and ongoing engagements between the PI and stakeholders building on this grant's results.
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Education,Environment

URL https://saffrononeill.wordpress.com/
 
Description The project's findings have been widely distributed beyond academic audiences. As planned, the PI developed a website through which to communicate the project's findings. Additionally, the PI set up a Twitter account, through which she now has an active and engaged following of stakeholders including followers from media organisations, government, science communication organisations and academia. This Twitter feed has proven invaluable as a starting point for conversations on the co-production of research ideas, and responding to initial research results. The results have led to invitations from national stakeholders to advise on climate image use. This includes the Met Office (ongoing interactions, but includes running a workshop for the EUPORIAS Climate Services Masterclass, 2016) and the Environment Agency (giving a webinar to more than 100 employees on engaging people with climate visuals, 2014). Additionally, the PI has provided advice to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change on visual imagery and climate change communication, in the context of the recent Expert Meeting on Communication (2016), leading to the new Communications Handbook (2018). The PI's work has led to request from government departments for copies of published works, and also to attend 10 Downing Street for a welcome reception for astronaut Tim Peake, as an example of a 'Rising Star in UK Science' (2016). The PI is increasingly requested to act as an Advisory Board member, in the context of the findings arising from the project. This includes, for example, acting as an Advisor on the AVOID2 Project, through the Department on Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS). In 2015, an art exhibition and academic/policymaker panel discussion was held at the RGS (Royal Geographical Society) Annual Conference, titled 'The Many Faces of Flooding: Policy, Science, and Art'. This engaged a diversity of stakeholders. Leading on from this, photographs and narratives associated with this exhibition have been incorporated into RGS teaching material for KS2 Geography. (Note this is a joint outcome with ERSC Urgency project 'The 2013/14 Winter Floods and Policy Change: The dynamics of change in the aftermath of major crises', ES/M006867/1).
First Year Of Impact 2013
Sector Education,Environment,Government, Democracy and Justice
Impact Types Cultural,Societal,Policy & public services

 
Description Media and the cultural politics of climate change: tracking the coverage of the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report
Amount £9,971 (GBP)
Organisation University of Exeter 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 08/2013 
End 04/2015
 
Description The 2013/14 Winter Floods and Policy Change: The dynamics of change in the aftermath of major crises
Amount £197,546 (GBP)
Funding ID ES/M006867/1 
Organisation Economic and Social Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 06/2014 
End 06/2016
 
Title Visual Q-method materials 
Description The webpage details the visual Q-method I have developed through this Fellowship, and provides all the tools needed to run the experiment. The visual Q-method has been used both as a pedagogical tool, and to stimulate further research in other international contexts (e.g. at the University of Zurich; in Germany, Switzerland and Austria) in climate change communication. 
Type Of Material Data analysis technique 
Year Produced 2014 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact New research ongoing at University of Zurich (using the method I developed but in a different international context). New teaching tools developed, e.g. at University of Hamburg MSc Integrated Climate Sciences. 
URL http://saffrononeill.wordpress.com/materials/visual-q-method-materials/
 
Description Collaboration with University of Colorado-Boulder 
Organisation University of Colorado Boulder
Country United States 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Collaborative visit to A/Prof Max Boykoff, Centre for Science & Technology Policy Research (CSTPR), University of Colorado-Boulder, January 2013.
Start Year 2013
 
Description Collaboration with University of Melbourne 
Organisation University of Massachusetts
Department University of Massachusetts Medical School
Country United States 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution - Collaborative visit, including fieldwork, for PI to University of Melbourne, December 2012. - Collaborative visit for Dr Sonia Graham (University of Melbourne) to University of Exeter, October 2013.
Start Year 2012
 
Description Social media (Twitter) profile set up, and maintaining online presence 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Twitter profile has enabled me to establish an online presence, and contribute to information exchange and interaction with practitioners, funders, policymakers, professional organisations, academics, and non-affiliated individuals.

Has facilitated collaboration and exchange between myself and other professionals working on climate change and communication matters (e.g. Leo Hickman, WWF; Carbon Brief; Richard Black, ex-BBC: these interactions specifically have led to a Special Issue submission to the journal Nature Climate Change).
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
URL https://twitter.com/SaffronJONeill
 
Description The Many Faces of Flooding: Policy, Science, and Art 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Art exhibition and academic/policymaker panel discussion at the RGS (Royal Geographical Society) Annual Conference in 2015, titled 'The Many Faces of Flooding: Policy, Science, and Art'. Photographs and narratives associated with this exhibition have been incorporated into RGS teaching material for KS2 Geography. (Note this is a joint outcome with ERSC Urgency project 'The 2013/14 Winter Floods and Policy Change: The dynamics of change in the aftermath of major crises', ES/M006867/1).
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Video 'Visualising climate change' 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Participants in your research and patient groups
Results and Impact Video describing research process, using photo-elicitation for climate adaptation work. Contributions from photo-elicitation project participants, edited by Polygraph Productions (Tom Lowe). See also the video's introduction on my blog, 30 Jan 2014: http://saffrononeill.wordpress.com/.

See also the video's introduction on my blog, 30 Jan 2014: http://saffrononeill.wordpress.com/.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012
URL http://bit.ly/1fAh3yO
 
Description Website set up 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other academic audiences (collaborators, peers etc.)
Results and Impact Website written and gone live, as key part of outreach activity to various audiences (academic, policy, practitioner, participants). Website updated frequently.

Key point of contact for above audiences getting in touch with me - much easier to update and add content than standard university webpage.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
URL http://saffrononeill.wordpress.com/