Mediating Climate Change

By Yearley, Steve | The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE, February 16, 2012 | Go to article overview

Mediating Climate Change


Yearley, Steve, The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE


Mediating Climate Change. By Julie Doyle. Ashgate. 194pp, Pounds 50.00 and Pounds 60.00 (e-book). ISBN 9780754676683 and 76690. Published 11 August 2011

Julie Doyle used to study techniques for the visualisation of the body in the context of anatomy; in her spare time she was a Greenpeace campaigner. This book blends those preoccupations: it asks how climate change is represented and envisioned in the media and documentaries, by campaigners and artists, and by international scientific bodies.

Her investigation begins from two plausible insights. The first is that climate change is hard to represent visually - for media sources, scientists and campaigners - because of its "unseen, invisible characteristics". For example, global warming arises from the build-up of invisible atmospheric gases and is often taken to be manifested in storms or record temperatures that cannot be related unequivocally to changing climates. Her second point relates to climate change's "temporality". In the accepted scientific view, a key feature of climate change is that current emissions will cause enduring warming, but only in the future. The effects we feel today result from past emissions. Cause and effect are far from immediately connected and, Doyle suggests, this is counter-intuitive and hard to represent using customary visual repertoires.

These points are developed differently in the book's two parts. In the first, she compares the visualisation strategies towards climate change of the BBC, Greenpeace and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change from 1990 to 2007, pointing out that Greenpeace consistently sought to display visually the current reality of changed climates while the BBC switched from presenting it as a future possibility to a present-day fact. There is a great deal of material that relates to these 18 years and Doyle necessarily covers it in a schematic way, but she does chart the evolution in the way the three organisations mobilise graphs, photos and more abstract images to convey environmental change.

In the second part, she looks at communication efforts in other recent contexts. …

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