Visualising Climate Change at COP 15

Elke Grittmann has recently reviewed the climate change images that appeared in German media during 2009’s UNFCCC COP meeting in Copenhagen.

Grittmann identifies what you would likely already anticipate as the usual suspects with respect to visualising climate change. So we are shown politicians, protestors, celebrities, polar bears on shrinking ice, retreating glaciers, natural disasters, vulnerable people, pristine nature, smoke stacks of energy producers, traffic congestion, deforestation, and renewable energy.

According to Grittmann these images implicitly sum up two slogans, that: this beauty is endangered but is worth saving, and that: nature and technology can co-exist in harmony.

Though, despite these positive and very palatable messages, the Copenhagen meeting was on the whole regarded as a failure.

An observer at the COP 15 photographs country representatives from the viewing gallery © Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Denmark

In addition to identifying what was visualised, Grittmann points out what, or specifically who, wasn’t. Noting that polluters were missing as actors, and that very rarely were companies or individuals required to take responsibility for climate change.

So leaving the causes of climate change as “superficial and anonymous”.

It’s an absence which poses a less palatable question of what it might look like to include polluters, companies, and individuals in visualisations of climate change.