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But, can you see it?
On making the climate crisis feel real
I can’t count the number of times that I’ve heard, read, or thought to myself — “The problem with climate change is that you just can’t see it.” Undoubtedly, the ability to turn a blind eye to the climate crisis is an aspect of my privilege. Unfortunately, this privilege is shared by many of the most powerful people in the world. I would also argue that even in places that face the worst and most immediate effects of the climate crisis, it still may feel more distant than something like whether you have money to put food on the table, whether you’re safe walking home at night, or whether you have equal rights. I have been interested in this struggle between short and long term problems for a long time; it is actually what I did my college thesis research on. I keep wondering, how can impending doom be so hard to see?
After spending time working on social media for a variety of organizations that work on climate change, I am starting to get it. When you look for open source “climate change” images on Canva, the main free graphic design platform, this is what you get.
Do you feel anything? No? Me neither.
We do not have great resources for understanding what is happening right now, as everyone is learning. Journalists, editors, photographers, designers — they don’t necessarily know as much about the climate crisis as they should. And so, we end up with pictures like the one above (no people — victims or perpetrators) highlighting our stories about the collapse of the planetary system we rely on. There is no story.
That’s why I was so excited to learn about Climate Visuals by Climate Outreach. This is a project to bring better climate imagery to the masses via an open source, searchable database. I know that this will be helpful for my work, and I hope others take advantage as well.
The project is guided by principles that I believe in. They’re even backed by research.
Show real people, not staged photo-ops
Tell new stories
Show climate causes at scale
Climate impacts are emotionally powerful
Understand your audience
Show local (but serious) climate impacts
Be very careful with protest imagery
Here is what it all looks like in action. What I love most is that each photo explains the story behind it when you go to download. I just provided a brief captions rather than the full story, but I think these photos speak for themselves.