Seeing is Believing

Pictures make a story come alive—and in the climate change story, one of the main characters is invisible.

Pictures make a story come alive—and in the climate change story, one of the main characters is invisible.

‘Seeing is believing’ is the strap-line on the feature about our visuals in the current edition of Conservation Magazine published by The University of Washington. Rather than a play on words there is a depth to this phrase that is about a pivotal point in each person’s comprehension of climate change.

The conversation about climate change needs to refocus on the causes of climate change. An understanding of cause (e.g., carbon) as opposed effect (e.g., ice melting) empowers people and is more likely to inspire action. “I want to do something about this problem rather than tackle the effect.” (See this blog)

Understanding climate change is a journey, one full of stories. And some of the best stories come with pictures. You can see this from young children’s relationship with books. Equally, a university, a house of stories and transcribed journeys, is a place to bring high-level science alive with images. Indeed, the raw material used to produce the images in this piece is a collection of highly accurate scientific data.

So when I saw the range of images that The Conservation Magazine had chosen for their online segment about Visualising Carbon I saw a creative and intellectual invitation to explore a key fundamental of climate change – emissions. What does carbon look like in my city? What does it look like in the air? What does it look like in a context I know? What does it look like up close? There is something profound, exciting and approachable here about a previously unapproachable problem – climate change.

And so we visualise the ‘what’ at the heart of climate change: we can see the emissions. And are immediately stimulated to consider ‘how’ we might deal with this problem. Looking at the Conservation Magazine article with new eyes we can perhaps see in the range of images of carbon that there is a shift in our own minds. We go from considering this a problem for those with a scientific mind to solve to one where we can all understand the fundamentals and have a role to play in changing the picture.