An iconic approach for representing climate change

Saffron J. O'Neill, Mike Hulme

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136 Citations (Scopus)


International and national greenhouse gas emissions reduction goals implicitly rely in part on individuals undertaking voluntary emissions reductions through lifestyle decisions. Whilst there is widespread public recognition of climate change as an issue, there are many barriers – cognitive, psychological and social – preventing individuals from enacting lifestyle decarbonisation. More effective climate change communication approaches are needed which allow individuals to engage meaningfully with climate change, thus opening new prospects for lifestyle decarbonisation. This study presents an iconic approach to engagement, tested in the UK context, which allows individuals to approach climate change through their own personal values and experiences. The iconic approach harnesses the emotive and visual power of climate icons with a rigorous scientific analysis of climate impacts under a different climate future. Although some climate icons already exist – for example the Thermohaline Circulation shutdown – these ‘expert-led’ icons fail to effectively engage ‘non-experts’. We demonstrate that the non-expert-led iconic approach helps overcome some of the cognitive and affective barriers that impede action towards lifestyle decarbonisation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)402-410
Number of pages9
JournalGlobal Environmental Change Part A
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2009

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