Carlo De Gaetano’s post on Medium, 29 March 2019.
A picture of a guy underwater holding a bunch of straws receives 487 likes on Instagram. Alongside the popular hashtag #StopSucking (used for the social media challenge aimed at “Putting an end to single-use plastic straws”), the post also contains the hashtag #climatechange. A repost from the Instagram account of Cowspiracy says that “Eating a vegan diet could be the single biggest way to reduce your environmental impact”. Self-stylist Rahost posts a hand-drawn diagram to show how fashion manufactures damage the ecosystem. These are examples of many different trending posts on Instagram that are connected to climate change. But what do all these different images tell us?
To query “climate change” on Instagram is like opening a window on a contemporary, louder version of the Tower of Babel. The only difference with the original is that at least, before losing their common language, people agreed on how to reach a better place.
The lack of a common language
While recently there is a growing agreement that the problem of climate change is real, researchers, policy-makers and the general public are still debating on which are the best solutions to solve it.
One of the causes of this science-action gap is a lack of a shared, understandable and engaging communication of such solutions.
Examples of images showing burning globes in a hand found on Google Image Search for the query “climate change”.
More specifically, there is a call to reframe discussions on climate change so that people are more inspired to act, instead of presenting them with dystopian pictures of burning globes in hands that provoke what researcher call apocalypse fatigue. In the face of these overwhelming messages, even well-intentioned people may start to avoid conversations around seeking solutions.
During the last Digital Methods Initiative (DMI) Winter School a group of new media researchers, journalism students, and designers tackled the challenge to study how climate change solutions are resonating online.
Previous DMI Summer and Winter School projects have explored the visual vernaculars of climate change across platforms and over time, capturing visual responses to political events such as Donald Trump’s announcement to withdraw the US from the Paris Agreement and responses to events such as Conference of the Parties (COP) conferences and Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports. Through digital and visual methods, researchers and designers have tried to establish means for capturing visual languages per platform, taking into account metrics for ranking and engagement, and exploring means to allow for visual comparisons by way of visualisation (Colombo 2018: Pearce et al. 2018; Niederer 2018).
The EMAPS (Electronic Maps to Assist Public Science) project explored the adaptation turn in the climate change debate, which resulted in the climate change adaptation atlas climaps.eu.
In this new project, we develop visual methodologies for digital research and study an emerging chapter in the climate change debate, which is climate change solutions.