Category: Communications

Even looking at flood maps can’t convince coastal residents their homes will be underwater

Even looking at flood maps can’t convince coastal residents their homes will be underwater

By Risa Palm and Toby W. Bolsen

Advertisers understand that providing consumers with the facts will not sell products. To get people to stop and pay attention, successful advertising delivers information simply and with an emotional hook so that consumers notice and, hopefully, make a purchase.

Climate communication scientists use these same principles of messaging—visual, local, and dramatic—to provide facts that will get the public’s attention. Such messaging is intended to help people understand risk as it relates to them, and perhaps change their behavior as a result.

As social scientists studying the effectiveness of climate change communication strategies, we became curious about a particular message we found online. Some houses advertised for sale in South Florida were accompanied by banner ads with messages such as “Flooding hurts home value. Know more before you buy. Find out for free now.” The ads were sponsored by the First Street Foundation through its website FloodIQ.com. The nonprofit foundation provides detailed aerial photos of present and future flooding as a consequence of rising sea level.

My colleague and I decided to survey residents of coastal South Florida to better understand how information affected their attitudes and opinions. Did these messages developed by a nonprofit organization change the perceptions of coastal residents who live in low-lying areas about the threat of coastal flooding as a result of sea-level rise?

Defining the danger to property by zip code

Many studies of climate change communication and response have been based on national surveys or more local reviews of counties and states susceptible to a range of coastal flooding. We focused our survey on a single region and a population at greatest risk: those who live in zip codes along the South Florida coast where the probability of flooding in local neighborhoods is extremely high.

Maps can be a way to see potential flood risk. [Image: floodiq/courtesy of the author]

With permission of the First Street Foundation to reproduce their maps that represent what flooding in the future might look like, we developed a survey to understand the effectiveness of tailored messages. How would this messaging impact residents’ beliefs about climate change and sea-level rise? We also asked if residents believed their communities and homes were at risk.

We surveyed more than 1,000 residents living in 166 zip codes in South Florida between October and December of 2018. All those surveyed were at risk from either the direct or indirect effects of flooding to their homes, including a decrease in property values, as coastal property is perceived as a less desirable destination.

We sampled residents of seven metropolitan areas, including Tampa-Saint Petersburg-Clearwater, Fort Myers, Key West, Miami-Dade County, Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach and Palm Beach, and Vero Beach. Half the sample received a map of their own city, rendered at a scale so that their city block was visible. The maps illustrated what could happen just 15 years from now at the present rate of sea-level rise if there were a Category 3 hurricane accompanied by storm-surge flooding.

[Photo: Asael Peña/Unsplash]

Does visual information make a difference?

The study was intended to assess how residents might perceive the vulnerability of their property and their communities to severe storms. We asked residents about their political affiliation and their support for policies such as zoning laws, gasoline taxes, and other measures to address climate change.

Surprisingly, we found that those who had viewed the maps were, on average, less likely to say they believed that climate change was taking place than those who had not seen the maps.

Further, those who saw the maps were less likely than those survey respondents who had not seen the maps to believe that climate change was responsible for the increased intensity of storms. Respondents who classified themselves as Republicans had the strongest negative responses to the maps.

Those who saw the maps were no more likely to believe that climate change exists, that climate change increases the severity of storms, or that sea level is rising and related to climate change. Even more dramatically, exposure to the scientific map did not influence beliefs that their own homes were susceptible to flooding or that sea-level rise would reduce local property values.

Consistent with national surveys, party identification was the strongest predictor of general perceptions of climate change and sea-level rise. However, the majority of homeowners denied that there was a risk to their property values, regardless of political affiliation.

What does it take to change minds?

We believe that the motivation of our respondents, their underlying beliefs when forming an opinion, is important when reflecting on these survey results. Specifically, people often process information or learn in a way that protects their existing beliefs or their partisan leanings.

In the case of our respondents’ general beliefs about climate change and its connection to sea-level rise, those who belonged to the Republican Party may have dismissed the maps either because they challenged their party’s stance on the issue or because they did not view the information as credible given their prior views. In the case of our respondents’ views about the future effects of sea-level rise on property values, all of the homeowners we surveyed, regardless of their partisanship, may have been motivated by their personal financial interests to reject the notion that sea-level rise would reduce their own property values.

It is important to emphasize that targeted information about climate change may lead to unintended effects. While accurate and easily absorbed information is important, it will take a much more nuanced approach to change the way people understand information. As advertisers well know, it takes more than facts to sell any product.


This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Cover photo by Epicurrence on Unsplash
Five top tips for having those tricky climate change conversations over the holiday season

Five top tips for having those tricky climate change conversations over the holiday season

By Lydia Messling

The festive season is coming, and so is that awkward conversation. We all have that one person who we can’t talk to about climate change. But let’s not be too hard on them. Climate change is not an easy subject to talk about. There’s lots of social science research into why it’s a concept that can be tricky to come to terms with. In this article, we’ll briefly outline the main reasons why that is, and some quick top tips to get you #talkingclimate and keeping peace on earth and goodwill to all.

  1. Start with just one thing that matters.
  2. Tell stories, not facts.
  3. Frame communications in a way that resonate with people’s values.
  4. Be reasonable in the ‘ask’.
  5. Share hope.

Start with just one thing that matters.

Sometimes, it’s hard to know where to start.  Climate change can feel like such a massive problem related to so many issues. But then there are also a million other issues vying for people’s attention too, such as healthcare, education, and finances. Climate change can simultaneously feel overwhelming, and irrelevant to other, more immediate concerns. In reality, climate change is probably related to those issues in some shape or form – either causing them, exacerbating them, or putting them at risk. And even if you’ve managed to perfectly recite all the possible ways that climate change impacts the global system, the science has probably moved on and discovered something else.

So the first top tip is to: just start on one thing that matters. The joy of having a conversation with someone is that it (hopefully) continues. You don’t need to squeeze everything about climate change in to one long wheezing paragraph. You can even come back to it next week, or at Easter. This also takes the pressure off – you don’t need to enter into an argument about ‘what issue matters more’, just to acknowledge that climate matters.

Tell stories, not facts.

Climate change can be pretty difficult to get your head around. And there’s a reason why that is. Phsychological distancing is a phenomenon that climate change suffers from – it is perceived as being ‘far off’ in many dimensions. Climate change is not something that is easily touched, or seen (or tasted, or smelled, or heard). It’s perceived as only happening in places far away, and with most of the effects taking place in the future. This distance in time, place, and matter might explain why the phrase ‘belief in climate change’ has been so often used, almost like having a faith.

Spewing more scientific facts about the future, and about invisible tonnes of CO2 rarely help in bringing climate change closer in to view. Whilst the evidence about climate change impacts happening now and closer to home is growing, it can still be difficult to understand how it will impact our daily lives. And have a long-lasting impact, not just a one-off disruption.

To overcome this, we need to make climate change relevant, and show how it is something that exists within a context we’re familiar with. Here, stories are invaluable. By talking about climate change’s impacts that are happening now and affecting real people, climate change comes a little closer. But to bring it even closer still, tell stories that include local impacts, put people (not scientific facts) at the centre, and think about the other stories and experiences the person you are talking to has already. Stories chime best when the audience are able to share something in common with it. For example, sensitively talking to flooded communities, and other communities that are near them about how climate change will affect flooding events.  

Frame communications in a way that resonate with people’s values.

For others, climate change is a big political red flag. In fact, in the US, researchers found that people’s views about climate change were a more reliable way of predicting political party affiliation than view on gun control or abortion. It might seem odd to have what is seemingly a scientific issue be so politically polarising, but attacks on science are often rooted in disagreements about what should be done in response to the science. Therefore, to stall a knee-jerk dismissal, try and understand the audience’s values. What makes them tick? What do they care about? What do they fear? What are they working towards achieving? How do they see their role in society?

Learning how people engage with the world and understand their place in it (their world view and identity) we can have a better understanding of how they see climate change. Even better, find out what you share in common with them, and talk about how that shared value might mean you both share a concern for climate change. For example, evangelical Christians in the USA tend to be more resistant to the reality of human-caused climate change. Professor Katharine Hayhoe, a climate scientist and evangelical Christian, uses both of these ‘credentials’ as a way of engaging evangelical Christians in climate change. A recent study found that the way she does this – ‘framing’ climate change in line with evangelical values, and speaking as a ‘trusted’ messenger – successfully convinces doubtful evangelicals about climate change

‘Framing messages’ is finding narratives that work in harmony with people’s values, rather than jarring with them. For example, some people of faith may find it hard to engage in action on climate change, if it feels like the messaging is saying their god is not powerful enough to stop it, or that it is going against the will of the deity. Research has found that there are five key narratives that work across the five major faiths in encouraging people to engage with climate change that refrain from making judgement about a deity’s power. Narratives that emphasise earth care, climate change as a moral challenge, climate change as disrupting the natural balance, how we live our faith through our actions, and take a personal pledge to act, are more likely to resonate with people of faith.

Be reasonable in the ‘ask’.

When discussing responses to climate change, be aware that some actions are likely to seem more acceptable than others. Some actions might seem like a really unfair ask. For example, for a single parent that already struggles to put food on the table for their children, having someone tell them they’re ruining the planet for not buying (the often more expensive and hard to find) organic, locally produced food, may be misdirected. It’s easy to see here how this particular action might sound judgemental and unsupportive to that single parent.

Being aware of people’s capacity and limitations is important, particularly for talking about first responses to climate change – different people experience different adaptation costs and risks associated with mitigation actions. Telling a crop farmer that they are going to have to relocate in order to adapt to climate change because it’s no longer viable to pay for the sea level defences, and move to another part of the country where it’s not as good to their crop, is a huge ask. It also threatens their identity and livelihood as a crop farmer. What we do and how we do it often forms a big part of our identity. In pushing for certain behavioural changes, we’re not just asking for people to change their ways, but sometimes we’re asking people to change a bit of their identities. That isn’t to say that we shouldn’t challenge some identity-defining actions, but be aware of the impact of such an ask. By understanding more about that person’s situation, their capacity for change, and the things they value (as mentioned above) the following questions can help you identify suitable ‘first-step’ actions that may help pave the way to adopting other changes:

  • Is the action accessible? Who are you excluding or not making feel welcome? Is it really expensive to do? Or far away, or time consuming, or inflexible?
  • Is the action sustainable? Does it require ongoing investment? Is it too burdensome?
  • Is the action visible? Is it easy to see progress? Can individual and collective action be identified?
  • Is it attractive? Do people experience a (co-)benefit from doing it? Is it fun? Do people want to keep doing it? Does it go against their identity?
  • Is the action collaborative? Does it help bring communities together? (This can help with encouragement, making it attractive, and making it sustainable).

Share hope.

And finally, we need to think about how we react to this. We are all emotional beings – some are more ready to admit that than others – and having an emotional reaction to climate change is natural and to be expected. One of the reasons why people shy away from having conversations about climate change is that it can leave you wallowing in a pit of despair. Or a glut of guilt. Or a furnace of frustration.

Climate grief is something that has begun to get more traction in recent years. There may also be anger at injustice, confusion, guilt, horror, gut wrenching empathy, conviction, ambivalence, and many more. It’s important to acknowledge these and give them space. But research has found that trying to engage people with climate change using ‘fear’ narratives does not work. Indeed, ‘hope’ narratives are successful in creating broad support for actions, and are much needed, particularly when communicating with young people. So find some hope, and share it.

By focusing on one thing to start off with, demonstrating how climate change links to other issues that people care about, telling a story in a way that relates to people’s values, and being sensitive to how actions are perceived, and people’s emotional response, we can open up a space to have a conversation about climate change.


Image by Karolina Grabowska from Pixabay
Why ‘acting locally’ is impossible in an interconnected world

Why ‘acting locally’ is impossible in an interconnected world

By Jennifer M. Bernstein

Like many Americans, I worry about the state of the planet and try to make a positive impact through decisions in my day-to-day life. But I also am nagged by the feeling that I often get it wrong, even though I analyze environmental problems for a living.

Concerned about plastics in the ocean, I renounced single-use plastic straws. Then I learned that they were critical for kids and the differently abled, and that waste management systems determine whether plastics make it to the ocean.

Years ago, I tried – and enjoyed – the meatless “Impossible Burger” at a café in my neighborhood, then ordered it again more recently at Burger King. Then prominent chefs started coming out against them because they are “processed and unhealthy.”

And after I volunteered to manage my daughter’s school garden, I found myself worrying that the pleasurable act of gardening was taking valuable school hours away from students learning about how to systematically address global environmental problems.

Journalist/chef Mark Bittman promotes plant-based eating but criticizes processed vegetarian burgers. PR Newswire

Despite these conflicts, I have stuck with my metal straw and plant-based burgers. I know my actions may not make a quantifiable positive environmental impact, even though they feel meaningful. As a professor of geography, I have critiqued environmentalism’s focus on local actions that rely on distant, large-scale technologies such as meal delivery kits and hunting wild game.

Of course all acts matter, but some matter more than others. Here’s where I’ve ended up: Engaging with the environment at multiple scales is what thoughtful people do, all the time, whether they want to or not. There is no place or scale to escape to. And the question of which level of encounter is the best for the environment – or the human soul – has no easy answer.

Small is beautiful, but is it effective?

Social activists often exhort followers to “Think globally, act locally.” But many geographers argue that the very idea of the local is rooted in fantasy.

For example, Doreen Massey characterizes locations as hubs where various flows – social, cultural, economic – intersect and change over time. In her view, it was impossible to draw a boundary around any single region because each place is in a constant state of flux, changing while being molded by outside phenomena.

As I see it, environmentalists often shy away from the big, messy, interconnected world. Many of us are highly skeptical that large-scale institutions, especially economic organizations like the U.S. Treasury Department or the World Bank, are capable of promoting positive environmental change.

At the same time, we’re well aware of the entangled and hybrid nature of environmental problems. We have a gnawing feeling in our stomachs that the world is burning, and we are, well, grasping at straws.

Different scales of attitudes and behaviors constantly contradict each other. For example, many residents of the Mojave desert in eastern California detest large-scale industrial solar power but embrace small-scale residential solar. Urban chefs and foodies heralded plant-based meats when they were a niche industry, but are now critiquing these products as they move into the mainstream.

Scale infuses our attitudes, behaviors and decisions, often in ways that aren’t rooted cognitively. Why do those behaviors that we find the most meaningful personally effect the smallest environmental change? And must we choose?

For some consumers, Whole Foods embodies the tensions between sustainable lifestyles and large-scale corporate growth.

Connection versus impact

To see how complex these choices can be, consider food waste. According to research by Project Drawdown, a nonprofit that uses cost-benefit analysis to identify the most effective macro-scale ways to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, reducing food waste is one of the most productive strategies for curbing climate change.

But this doesn’t mean eating everything on your plate at dinner or buying “ugly produce.” Nearly one-third of all food waste occurs between the farm and the grocery store or restaurant, so that’s the optimal place to reduce it. Once a meal is plated, it’s ultimately too late to avert those losses.

Everyone who is concerned about the environment knows that large-scale solutions are important. And yet the solutions feel abstract, far away and embedded in stubborn power structures that are difficult to influence or engage with.

Environmentalist and entrepreneur Paul Hawken, founder of Project Drawdown, argues for concerted large-scale action to reverse global warming.

Can environmentalists admit and accept that they act at different scales for different reasons? In his book, “The $64 Tomato,” William Alexander humorously recognized that when harvested, each of his home-grown tomatoes had cost, well, US$64, factoring in pest management, watering and animal traps.

Growing tomatoes is an act of connection, and engagement with the natural world is ultimately what fuels many environmentalists to fight for wild species and places. That is no small feat. But as Alexander’s work demonstrates, these behaviors are practiced mainly by people who have benefited the most from industrial society. You can’t grow $64 tomatoes if you don’t have $64 to spare on what is ultimately a hobby.

Acting at the local level feels good because the results are visible and tangible. Some people dream of getting rid of possessions, installing solar panels, eating from the garden and practicing a life rooted in place, sensitive to the needs of the Earth. But the world is more complicated than that.

I may think I’m acting locally, but in fact I’m in contact with distant communities every day. I can identify local plants using my iPhone, then upload them to iNaturalist. And what is a back-to-the-land lifestyle if not seen through a hazy Instagram filter? Yet as geographer Andrew Blum states, “to ignore the modern is to be profoundly disconnected from the world in which we actually live.”.

In my view, we don’t get to choose. Everything local is global, and vice versa. It’s a matter of continuing to participate, to question ourselves and our behaviors, to assess and reassess the needs of the planet, and hold dearly the tensions that come with trying to make positive environmental change.


This article was originally posted on The Conversation.
Cover photo by Caleb Stokes on Unsplash.
South West Indian Ocean region strengthens knowledge sharing on climate change with new online portal

South West Indian Ocean region strengthens knowledge sharing on climate change with new online portal

The Indian Ocean Commission (IOC) has launched a new collaborative platform for sharing and accessing climate change related information and best practice in the South West Indian Ocean region. The Indianoceania Climate Change Portal, an IOC initiative supported by EU-funded ISLANDS project and AFD is intended to be a reference tool to help build the capabilities of island nations in the region to respond to climate change and its impacts.

Climate change poses a set of unique challenges for the island countries in the region. Its coastal and marine ecosystems such as coral reefs and mangroves are extremely vulnerable to climate change, as are the livelihoods of the region’s population that are largely dependent on these ecosystems. The countries in the region have national plans and strategies for reducing vulnerability and enabling adaptation and have been undertaking initiatives to build their resilience. The Indianoceania Climate Change Portal supports these initiatives by providing easy access to data and information and a platform for collaboration and knowledge sharing.

Image: A screenshot of the Indianoceania Climate Change Portal homepage.

The Portal was conceptualised as a result of a study conducted by Acclimatise for the IOC which aimed at strengthening the commission’s capacity to support its member countries achieve an inclusive climate resilient development path. Acclimatise provided technical assistance to the IOC in defining the architecture and content of the portal through comprehensive web specifications based on the needs, preferences and expectations of its users in the region. The process also leveraged inter-regional experience and knowledge exchanges with the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre (CCCCC) and the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP). The technical and editorial development of the portal was funded by IOC and AFD and then taken over by the Seychelles Meteorological Authority, which currently hosts the portal and collaborates with IOC for its day to day operation.

The Portal provides information on key climate data, domestic climate policies and strategies, international commitments and best practices for each member country as well as for the region. Importantly, the portal is a collaborative venture and provides the space for various actors in the region to share relevant information, studies and learnings.

The core objectives of the portal are to:

  • Facilitate the hosting, management and dissemination of climate data, information and knowledge and the filling in of data gaps through a participatory platform
  • Raise awareness and enable access to information for member countries and the world by providing information through a user-friendly interface
  • Promote good practices, projects and initiatives undertaken by various stakeholders and actors such as local communities, economic operators and regional bodies which can influence policy making and responses to specific challenges in the region
  • Engage users on climate issues by offering the opportunity to exchange, share and participate concretely in current or future actions

It is hoped that the Indianoceania Climate Change Portal will open up new avenues for collaborative action not just amongst the countries in the South West Indian Ocean region, but also between the region and the rest of the world.

Visit the portal here.


Cover photo / Baobab trees in Morondava in Madagascar. Credit: Larre, CC by 3.0
PRESS RELEASE: CCRI brings together companies across the infrastructure investment value chain with assets totalling USD 5 trillion

PRESS RELEASE: CCRI brings together companies across the infrastructure investment value chain with assets totalling USD 5 trillion

The Government of the United Kingdom, the Government of Jamaica, Willis Towers Watson, the Global Commission on Adaptation and the World Economic Forum are announcing the launch of a private sector-led Coalition for Climate Resilient Investment (CCRI). Acclimatise is delighted to see this launch and are official supporters of the CCRI.

Climate change will impact on all aspects of society and will pose the biggest challenges to the world’s most vulnerable. Recently Hurricane Dorian has reminded us of the destructive power of weather systems. In a warming and unstable climate, these events are more likely to occur and will gain in power. Extreme weather poses an existential threat to the world`s most vulnerable nations, but also to the world’s most advanced economies’ critical infrastructure.

The Coalition is the first of its kind, as a financial-sector led initiative, that brings together over 30 organisations across the investment value chain to address climate resilience challenges. Chaired by the CEO of Willis Towers Watson John Haley, the coalition aims to transform infrastructure investment by integrating climate risks into decision-making, driving a shift toward a more climate resilient economy for all countries, including the most vulnerable.J

“This new coalition realises that current efforts to adapt to physical climate risks and deliver resilience for exposed communities and assets across the globe are severely lacking and need to be addressed urgently. The conditions for success are ripe, the coalition will be able to harness a unique combination of the rapid advancement of climate risk analytics coupled with ambitious regulatory and investor-led initiatives. Pricing the risks posed by climate change will create opportunities to build a network of resilient infrastructure in high, medium and low-income countries, enabling us to better prevent future human and financial disasters.”

John Haley, CEO of Willis Towers Watson

There is a crucial need to develop new sources of data and analytical tools to better understand the risks posed by climate change to our societies and economies.  This will enable us to better address these risks, preventing future human and financial disasters. Infrastructure enables the flow of goods, services and people which allow societies to thrive. Properly pricing climate risk in financial decision-making will align investment flows towards infrastructure capable of withstanding a changing climate. Providing a methodology to quantify the economic and financial benefits will provide a substantial and critical incentive for financial markets to embed resilience upfront.

“Making infrastructure resilient to climate change has been regarded for too long as a burden and a cost. In reality, it’s a high return investment, yielding on average a 4-to-1 return. It also saves lives, reduces risks, and encourages further investment. This dynamic new coalition will help make climate risks visible, leading to better decisions and smarter investments for the future. The Global Commission on Adaptation is proud to be part of it.”

Andrew Steer, President and CEO of the World Resources Institute, and Commissioner of the Global Commission on Adaptation

The Coalition will develop a common approach to assessing climate risks, which will enable them to ensure all their investments are resilient, and will unlock additional private finance for resilient infrastructure investment.

“Achieving the transition to a carbon neutral future will require mobilising mainstream private finance.  Advances in reporting and risk analysis are paving the way for investors to realise the opportunities in climate-friendly investment by re-orienting their focus to more sustainable long-term value creation. In this context, the Coalition for Climate Resilient Investment’s focus on integrating climate risks into decision-making will help finance the infrastructure investment needed to build an economy more resilient to climate change.”

Mark Carney, Governor of Bank of England

Notes to Editors:

The Coalition will be officially launched at the United Nations Climate Action Summit in New York on the 23rd of September 2019 in a panel entitled Towards a Resilient Future.  A press conference will follow from 13:30-13.55 in the Media Briefing Room (S-237) in the UN Headquarters, New York.

Supporters of this coalition include:

Business: Aberdeen Standard Investments, Acclimatise, Arup, Clyde and Co, DWS, Environment Agency Pension Fund, GARI, GRESB, IGCC, IIGCC, Impax, Jupiter Intelligence, KPMG, Legal and General, Lightsmith Group, Lloyds Banking Group, McKinsey, Meridiam, One Concern, Schroders, Standard Chartered, Willis Towers Watson, Zurich Insurance Group.

International institutions: Asian Development Bank, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, Environmental Change Institute, University of Oxford, FAO, Global Commission on Adaptation, Global Infrastructure Facility, Global Water Partnership, Green Climate Fund, Green Finance Institute, TCFD Secretariat

This coalition is supported by the Governments of the United Kingdom, Jamaica, the Solomon Islands and Belize.

Through to the end of 2019, the Coalition will develop case studies to build the business case and identify the critical enabling environments for climate resilient infrastructure investment. By COP26 in 2020 analytical tools including a physical risk pricing framework and methodology to prioritise national resilient investment needs, will be developed, alongside a range of instruments to prevent capital flight from the most vulnerable regions, such as a technology transfer programmes, technical assistance facilities and/or blended finance facilities. Going forward, innovative capital market instruments such as Resilience Bonds will be structured, and the pricing framework will be implemented across resilient infrastructure investment funds.  6 country pilot projects will trial these innovations, protecting economies and citizens` lives from growing climate impacts. 

This Coalition is the result of a collaboration between the World Economic Forum, the Government of the United-Kingdom, the Government of Jamaica, Willis Towers Watson and the Global Commision on Adaptation. It is part of the package for the United Nation Climate Action Summit`s Adaptation and Resilience track, led by the UK and Egypt.

An information pack for journalists is available. For further information, please contact Alem Tedeneke, Media Lead, World Economic Forum at Alem.Tedeneke@weforum.org


Photo of Hurricane Dorian, taken from Wikimedia Commons
How heatwave images in the media can better represent climate risks

How heatwave images in the media can better represent climate risks

By Dr Saffron O’Neill

Dr Saffron O’Neill is an associate professor in geography at the University of Exeter. Between 2012 and 2017 she held an Economic and Social Research Council Future Research Leader Fellowship on “Visualising climate change”. This article first appeared on the Carbon Brief website.

As the northern hemisphere summer comes to an end, it seems a fitting time to reflect on how the news media has reported on this year’s summer heat and heatwaves.

This has been an exceptionally hot summer: across Europe, there have been two distinct periods of very hot weather. Temperature records were broken in June across many countries, during what became the hottest June ever recorded in Europe.

Another period of intense heat occurred in July, matching – and maybe even exceeding – the record set the previous month. Analysis suggests this event was made up to 100 times more likely because of human-caused climate change.

And just this past weekend has seen more records broken in the UK, with the hottest August bank holiday Monday on record and the hottest August bank holiday weekend as a whole.

This record-breaking heat made headlines across the UK’s media, with many stories illustrated with images focusing on the fun of the summer sun. Yet heatwaves have serious impacts, which are projected to become more potent with rising global temperatures. This prompts the question of what impact using these images has on the wider public? And what images would be more appropriate to illustrate these news stories?

Fountain frolics or train cancellations?

In the early summer heatwaves in the UK, many news outlets chose to represent stories about extreme heat as something to be enjoyed: images of sunbathing on the beach amongst colourful parasols, or splashing around in city fountains.

Many of these articles were juxtaposed with headlines that belied the seriousness of the coming weather. Just two examples of many: “Hell is coming” Mail Online, in a story accompanied by a picture of a woman splashing in a fountain by the Eiffel Tower. A live-text discussion on the Guardian website entitled “Heatwave: Paris suffers 42.6C hottest day ever” was illustrated by people enjoying the hot weather on Brighton Beach.

The Daily Telegraph, 27 August 2019

This commitment to headlines of heatwave suffering alongside jolly holiday snaps shows no signs of being a one-off trend. Before, during and after the record-breaking August Bank Holiday, numerous newspapers followed suit.

Mirror headline from Thursday last week spoke of “Met Office health warnings for 33C bank holiday heatwave”, yet it was illustrated by another holidaymakers-on-busy-beach photograph. A Daily Telegraph article on Tuesday carried the headline “Climate warning as more summer records tumble” in the print edition and was illustrated by nuns on a beach and children playing in water. And a Sunday Telegraph piece in its print edition advising that “Heat could tip A&E units into queues chaos, warn doctors” is accompanied by an image of families canoeing.

The Sunday Telegraph, 25 August 2019

Of course, summer holidays are meant to be enjoyed – and as anyone who has ever lived in the UK knows, Brits in particular seem to love a good-news weather story (almost as much as a bad-weather story). But where were the images of people struggling in the heat?

Daily lives

Although there has been a rapid increase in the visual coverage of climate impacts in media stories, often lacking from the visual narrative around heatwaves are the less enjoyable aspects. These might include the significant transportation failures as railway lines buckled, the severe health impacts on older folks and vulnerable people, the effects of extreme heat on animals and food production, and the lack of buildings and infrastructure well-adapted to offer a comfortable environment to their occupants during extreme heat.

For many going about their daily lives during these heatwaves, life was not all fountain frolics and sunbathing.

The most recent assessment report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report shows that rising global temperatures is expected to bring more of these sorts of heatwaves in the coming years and decades. In fact, in future years, summers like 2019 may be commonplace rather than seeming exceptionally hot.

The Irish edition of the Daily Mirror, 26 June 2019

An unbearably hot train commute compounded by delays and cancellations, farmersstruggling to keep their animals cool enough for days on end, hospital emergency departments coping with an influx of heat-related illness, struggling to get a baby to sleep in a hot and stuffy bedroom: people struggling to go about their daily lives because of the weather. These could be examples of compelling and relatable visuals with which to illustrate stories of extreme heat.

Therefore, finding – and using – more effective ways to visually communicate about an increasingly hot future is a pressing issue.

Why do visuals matter?

diversity of evidence points towards how media representations play an important role in how we think, feel and act on climate change.

Much research has focused on analysing how the media represent climate change through text, mainly through work examining the text of newspaper articles. Yet this work fails to take account of the role of visual images.

A growing group of experts working on climate change visuals is showing that the images used to communicate about climate change play a key role in shaping readers’ thoughts and feelings about the issue.

Images are key for setting the context and narratives about climate change. Images shape how important people think climate change is – their “sense of saliency” about the issue; and whether they feel able to act on it – their “sense of self-efficacy”.

Yet, the images of climate change that the media tend to favour are restricted to a fairly narrow range of themes. And many of these fail to increase either a sense of saliency or a sense of self-efficacy. For example, a common way of illustrating climate news is using photographs of politicians, yet these images strongly undermine saliency. Conversely, images which increase a sense of self-efficacy, such as images of energy futures, are rare in the media. This is true across a range of countries, from the US, UK and Australia to Austria, Switzerland and Germany.

Opportunities for change

There has been little work examining how media organisations select and use images for weather and climate news.

What little there is suggests that there is a disconnection between journalists writing news stories and picture editors and others selecting images to go alongside them. As a result, visual and text-based narratives often pull in different directions, and can even advance contradictory claims – much as can be seen in the heatwave news reporting.

But this is not to lay blame at the feet of journalists, editors or media organisations. Climate change is a complex and amorphous issue – so how can we improve how it is represented visually?

We know from empirical evidence that it is often not very helpful to try to “scare” people into action with dread-inducing images, in this case, of extreme heat. But images of ice creams and holidays don’t do much to progress the visual lexicon of heatwave risk either.

The Scottish edition of the Times, 26 July 2019

Rather, researchers and academics need to work with media organisations, image libraries and communication practitioners to craft a more diverse and engaging set of visuals from which to illustrate and imagine climate change.

Earlier this summer, I was involved in a Twitter thread commenting on a BBC News article, “Climate change: UK’s 10 warmest years all occurred since 2002”, which was illustrated with an image of people sunbathing under colourful parasols on a UK beach.

To the credit of the BBC, the image was subsequently changed to one of a train shimmering through heat haze. In a more concerted effort, the communications specialists at Climate Outreach have created the Climate Visuals project, a growing library of evidence-based images for effective climate engagement. I hope that this, and other initiatives like this one, will be the start of a conversation to create a more diverse and engaging visual discourse for imagining and adapting to our climate changed future.


People in the US find common ground on climate change solutions

People in the US find common ground on climate change solutions

By Will Bugler 

The United States is a country that is often portrayed as one that is deeply divided on climate change. However, a recent study from the Yale Programme on Climate Change Communication indicates that there are significant areas where political divides can be bridged, which could lead to a consensus about how to respond to climate change and its impacts.

The Yale study is not all good news. It shows that there are areas where public opinion remains deeply divided, notably a only 49% of Americans believe most scientists think global warming is happening. Large areas of the U.S. think that that climate change is still scientifically contested (see the map below).

Given that though it is perhaps surprising that there is much more consensus around other issues. 70% of adults think global warming is happening, and 57% understand that it is mostly caused by human activities. This provides a solid foundation gathering support for taking action on climate change, especially on climate adaptation and resilience building.

Risk perceptions in the U.S. seem to support the idea that people are worried about the potential impacts of climate change on the environment. 61% of Americans are ‘worried’ about global warming, and solid majorities acknowledge that it will harm the environment (70%), future generations (70%) and people in developing countries (62%).

Interestingly well over half (58%) of survey respondents also said that climate change would harm people in the US, however only 41% of people thought it would harm them personally. This reinforces the need for policymakers and climate communicators to emphasise the impacts of climate change that are local and have demonstrable personal impacts for people today.

Even more striking perhaps is the level of consensus around policies to respond to climate change. 70% of U.S adults said environmental protection is “more important that economic growth” and there was widespread support for policies including funding renewable energy (85%), regulate CO2 as a pollutant (77%) and teaching about global warming in schools (79%). People also felt that citizens, Congress, governors, and local officials should also ‘do more’ to address global warming (65%, 62%, 56% and 57% respectively).

The widespread support for such policies is rarely talked about and may come as a surprise to many. Part of the reason for that could be the deafening silence around climate change in the media and in general public debate. As the map below shows, only 22% of adults in the US hear about climate change ‘at least once a week’, and 64% of people ‘never’ talk about it.

The willingness of Americans to engage with policy measures that could help mitigate and adapt to climate change provides a great deal of hope that the highly politicised question over global warming’s causes can be sidestepped. However, in order to achieve progress, it is clear that the issue needs to become much more prominent in national discourse. The media, politicians and people must therefore take responsibility for talking about climate change.


About the Data

Public opinion estimates are produced using a statistical model based on national survey data (n > 22,000) gathered between 2008 and 2018 by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication and the George Mason Center for Climate Change Communication. Positive (e.g., “Agree” or “Support”) and negative (“Disagree” or “Oppose”) responses are modeled separately; the light grey space on the bar charts therefore reflects respondents who marked “I don’t know”, “Not sure”, “Refused”, or similar options. For details see the “Methodology” tab on this page and Howe, P., Mildenberger, M., Marlon, J.R., and Leiserowitz, A., “Geographic variation in opinions on climate change at state and local scales in the USA,” Nature Climate Change. DOI: 10.1038/nclimate2583. Email climatechange@yale.edu for more information.

This research and website are funded by the Energy Foundation, the 11th Hour Project, the Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment, the TomKat Foundation, and the MacArthur Foundation.

Cover photo by Julius Drost on Unsplash.
Flooded internet is possible by 2035

Flooded internet is possible by 2035

By Tim Radford

Information now travels along the internet. But what happens when sea levels rise and leave a flooded internet, its vital cables and traffic hubs under water?

US engineers have identified a problem nobody had ever expected to confront so soon: the approach of the flooded internet, caused by worldwide sea level rise. Within 15 years seawater could be lapping over buried fibre optic cables in New York, Seattle, Miami and other US coastal cities, according to a new study.

The consequences for global communications are unknown. But, as the glaciers melt, and the water in the oceans continues to expand as temperatures rise, the chances of urban flooding will increase.

And that means water where nobody expected it – over buried cables, data centres, traffic exchanges, termination points and other nerve centres of the physical internet, according to a team from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of Oregon.

“Most of the damage that’s going to be done in the next 100 years will be done sooner than later,” said Paul Barford, the computer scientist who led the study and presented it to a meeting of network scientists. “That surprised us. The expectation was we’d have 50 years to plan for it. We don’t have 50 years.”

“Keeping the sea at bay is hard. We can probably buy a little time, but in the long run it’s just not going to be effective”

In fact, such buried infrastructure is usually sheathed in water-resistant protection, but water-resistant is not the same as waterproof. And while submarine cables are fashioned to withstand extended seawater corrosion and pressure, urban services don’t have quite the same level of future-proofing.

But city managers already have the awful lessons of massive flooding in New York  from Superstorm Sandy, or of New Orleans from Hurricane Katrina, or of Houston from Hurricane Harvey.

The message from climate science for the last five years has been simple: expect more coastal flooding.

Risk easily increased

The US scientists looked only at the challenges for the US. They calculate that by 2033 an estimated 4,000 miles (6,400 kms) of buried fibre optic conduit will be under water. More than 1,100 traffic hubs – internet exchange points that handle massive quantities of information at colossal speeds – will be surrounded by water.

Many of the conduits at risk are already at or near sea level, and only a very slight further rise could bring extra risk, especially at those places where the submarine cables come ashore.

“The landing points are all going to be underwater in a short period of time,” Professor Barford believes. “The first instinct will be to harden the infrastructure. But keeping the sea at bay is hard. We can probably buy a little time, but in the long run it’s just not going to be effective.”

And, he told academics and industry scientists at an Applied Network Research Workshop: “This is a wake-up call. We need to be thinking about how to address this issue.”


This article originally appeared on Climate News Network and can be accessed here.

Cover photo from Pixabay.
Podcast: Hurricane Irma: Angela Burnett, author of The Irma Diaries

Podcast: Hurricane Irma: Angela Burnett, author of The Irma Diaries

In 2017 the Caribbean was struck by a series of hurricanes, the largest of which, hurricane Irma, was the strongest open Atlantic storm on record. Irma’s peak wind speeds reached 180mph as it caused catastrophic damage to the islands of Barbuda, Saint Barthelemy, Saint Martin, Anguilla and the Virgin Islands.

Today we hear from someone who experienced the full force of Irma first-hand. Angela Burnett, a lifelong resident of the British Virgin Islands was working as the territory’s climate change officer when Irma struck, but even having experienced severe hurricanes in the past, she was deeply affected by the storm.

To draw attention to those living, as she does, on the front lines of climate change, Angela embarked on a mission to tell the stories of the survivors and how it has changed them.

After a process that saw Angela work late into the night by candlelight, make clandestine trips to write at a local sewage treatment works and face armed police barricades, Angela’s book ‘The Irma Diaries: Compelling Survivor Stories from the British Virgin Islands‘ was born. This is her story.


The Irma Diaries is available to purchase here.

Learn more about the book and hear extracts from the survivors’ stories here.

Cover photo by DFID/Flickr (CC BY 2.0): Damage caused by Hurricane Irma in Road Town, on the British Virgin Island of Tortola, 12 September 2017.
Acclimatise leads new study on NCEI data and its applications to the transportation sector

Acclimatise leads new study on NCEI data and its applications to the transportation sector

By Elisa Jiménez Alonso         

Transportation and logistics businesses rely on weather and climate data to stay on schedule and reduce risks. A new study led by Acclimatise shows how the sector uses data from NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information to reduce weather-related risks that might lead to costly disruptions in their service.

Express couriers

For express couriers like UPS and FedEx it is crucial to avoid delivery delays as they can cause cascading repercussions in their clients’ supply chains and also reduce consumer confidence. As UPS meteorologist, Randy Baker, puts it in the report “Someone awaiting a package in Bangkok doesn’t care if it snowed in Louisville, Kentucky. They want their stuff.”

The industry uses NCEI’s historical records to optimise their performance. One such dataset is the International Station Meteorological Climate Summary (ISMCS), or, commonly referred to as the “climate disk”. It contains detailed historical summaries of daily, hourly, and monthly reports of air temperature, precipitation, wind, clouds, pressure, and various other elements from 640 primary weather observation sites and more than 5,800 secondary sites worldwide.

Companies that make up a large portion of the $82 billion express courier industry depend on the ISMCS for many applications, such as landing visibility minimums, strategic planning of airport locations, transport of temperature-sensitive goods, de-icing decisions, and weather model verification.

Long-haul carriers: railways

Click on the image to see the infographic in full size.

The infrastructure of railroads is very exposed to weather, as such the $60 billion industry to inform risk management, legal claims, and to optimise networks. NCEI’s Local Climatological Data (LCD), Integrated Surface Daily Database (ISD), and Global Historical Climatology Network, Daily (GHCN-D) provide a foundation for freight management.

During high heat, railway heat tolerances can be analysed to pre-emptively make decisions to avoid breaches, for example, train speeds can be decreased, loads can be reduced during peak heat, and railway workers can be dispatched to search for visible signs of track damage.

Impact on the economy

Given the on-going rise in package deliveries and the importance of bulk goods transported by rail, disruptions to both industries can have severe knock on effects that can also be felt economically.

Managing risks posed by weather and climate is thus not only practical but ultimately a business necessity and NCEI’s data plays a crucial part.


Download the full report by clicking here.

Cover photo by Robson Hatsukami Morgan on Unsplash.