Climate Change Images: You’re Doing it Wrong

World under water Las VegasThere’s a lot to fear from climate change, but Las Vegas under several meters of water? That ain’t one.

Yet as Andrew Freedman points out on Mashable, that’s one of the strange visuals you can get out of World Under Water, a publicity effort by carbon offset company CarbonStory, working with marketing firm BBDO. Users type in their post code, and out comes an image of their home or other landmark under seawater – complete with gently lapping waves.

According to the organizations:

The idea isn’t just about creating a shocking effect, but rather to give people an opportunity to become part of the solution to climate change by calculating and offsetting their carbon footprint using CarbonStory’s website.

There’s a lot that’s wrong with this approach. The fact that you can choose locales nowhere near the ocean, for a start. (The purported aim is to show rising sea levels, not the effects of inland floods.) Or that a place like Las Vegas isn’t likely to have flooding of any kind.

What’s concerning to me as a student of science communications is that just at the time when climate change advocates need to show more rigor and discipline than ever in their messaging, along comes this – a tool that creates absolutely false images of changes that will never be.

The climate change message is not getting through. Republicans are capitalizing on the public’s uncertainty by painting White House climate policies as alarmist. But we’ve learned a lot in the past few years from the study of misinformation. Along with more complex guidance on framing, avoiding negation, offering alternative explanations and so on, experts in the field like John Cook and Stephan Lewandowsky also offer the simple advice to “avoid dramatic language” and “stick to the facts.” The same rules should apply for images.

When it’s so easy for climate change deniers to dismiss reasoned, peer-reviewed science as alarmism, how much fun will they have with this?

picture credit: worldunderwater.org

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