Lecture 18-10-12

In this lecture, we were presented with a very dogmatic view of climate change – I’m not entirely surprised that all the newspaper clippings came from the Guardian! Whatever happened to reasoned debate?

The man-made causes of climate change, and even the fact of climate change itself, have not gone unchallenged.* The image below, for instance,  achieved iconographic status around the world as a symbol of global warming, but has since been widely discredited.

I would have been interested to know the provenance of the images used by Prof. Williamson but we were asked to accept her explanations and interpretation as a given.

I found some of her conclusions hard to accept. For instance, is she really saying that the use of snow, ice, and other polar imagery as a visual shorthand to describe climate change is an indication that we are collectively frozen in our emotional response to the problem? She called it “denial at the level of imagination“.

The advertising industry has never been noted for its imagination or original thinking, so isn’t it more likely to be a case of everyone jumping on the same bandwagon, from Landrover to Blackberry, to Greenpeace, in order to sell more product or get their message across? I seem to remember that, only a few years ago, panoramic desert scenes and the Grand Canyon (another fragile eco-system!) were de rigueur in every advert for luxury goods and in every glossy magazine.

The unpalatable truth is that deserts don’t do it for us any more – we have become inured to the suffering of our fellow human beings through half a century of over-exposure to images of drought, death and destruction; Biafra, Ethiopia… every saucer-eyed Tuareg child staring piteously into the camera is just so last year, darling!

But polar bears and the antics of penguins – now they never go out of fashion. And maybe the frozen Arctic wastes just contain more cutely photogenic animals than deserts? (if you forget the inconvenient fact that the polar bear is just about the only animal on the planet that will hunt and kill a human being for sport). Besides, it is so much easier to understand the plight of an endangered species of furry mammal than to get our heads around the fact that our own kind might be facing extinction. I am reminded of the last lines of a poem by John Blight; Death of a Whale:

“Sorry, we are, too, when a child dies:
But at the immolation of a race, who cries?”

Prof. Williamson was very articulate and engaging when talking about visual language and the ambiguity of imagery. It is a pity, therefore, that her academic authority was undermined by her deeply selective and exclusive choice of examples.
*But climate sceptics, who have long argued that natural processes are either underestimated, or not properly understood, will not be surprised at this scaling back of expected warming. (Paul Hudson, BBC weather correspondent)

Well, well… so it turns out that temperature rises ascribed to global warming may have been a wee bit exaggerated, according to the Met Office in a press release today. Read Paul’s blog here: Paul Hudson



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