Visualizing Climate Change: Television News and Ecological Citizenship

Libby Lester, Simon Cottle


Television images can provide powerful symbols of ecological disaster. As Ulrich Beck notes (2009: 86) the catastrophic consequences of climate change must be made visible not only to enhance understanding but also to generate pressure for action. Taking its cue from current social theoretical ideas about media and ecological citizenship and Beck’s writings on the ‘symbolic politics of the media’, we set out to empirically examine the nature of climate change visualization within television news. We explore two analytically distinct dimensions of news visualisation: images, scenes and spectacular images of nature(s), places and people as under threat; and how accessed strategic relations of contention are visually infused with signs of trust and credibility. To better understand the contribution of the news media to ecological citizenship, we argue, we must attend to both these visual rhetorics and examine how each enters into the public representation, elaboration and now deepening contentions of climate change.

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