Visualising Climate

Professor Alison Anderson collaborated with artist, Carey Marks, and film-maker, James Ellwood, to explore the potential for creative participatory processes to foster young people’s sense of empowerment in communicating the climate emergency. Qualitative data was collected via a series of innovative, co-produced workshops involving young people aged 16-21 in Devon schools.

An ‘interactive game’ using illustrated visual icons on climate change causes and effects was created by Carey Marks of SCARLET Design. This provided a visually exciting means to engage young people in discussing the issues, including the role of media framing. A selection of the young people were filmed by James Ellwood of Fotonow. Young people’s voices are crucial to adaptation and resilience and film provides a powerful tool to convey their hopes and fears.

<p>Fire</p>
<p>Flooding</p>
<p>Domestic appliances</p>
<p>Deep sea fishing</p>

The workshops suggest that while young people have a reasonable knowledge of climate change issues, the topic needs to be communicated in clear and meaningful ways avoiding jargon and technical language.

Young people tended to be critical of framings that contextualise climate change as either affecting only distant locations or taking place in the future.

They favoured visual images showing local impacts and everyday contexts. Many found protest imagery disengaging. They recalled seeing climate change content mainly on video-based platforms such as TikTok and Instagram. Interestingly, they tended to identify with and distinguish between specific social media platforms more than with the original sources of content posted to these platforms, and there was a tendency to underestimate the potential for political bias.

The findings suggest that teachers were viewed as trusted sources of information on climate change yet the subject needs to feature more prominently in the national curriculum. 

There is scope for including climate discussion within a wider range of curriculum areas, not just limited to geography and science.

Exploring climate themes within arts in particular has significant potential where young people are engaged through creative activities which spark their imagination and sense of agency.

The project is one of five University of Plymouth research projects featuring at the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference COP26 in Glasgow this November.


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All photography and illustration by Carey Marks

Carey Marks Photography

Carey Marks is a portrait, research and documentary photographer who has a passionate interest in portraits and photo-journalism: particularly 'communities and people in context'. He is also an established art director and graphic designer, with over twenty years experience in London and the US.

His recent work for the University of Plymouth's Jali Ardhi, or ‘care for the land’ project, has been featured in the Guardian, and he has developed branding for Vivienne Westwood’s 'MAN', designed invitations for her Majesty the Queen, and designed various campaigns for organisations such as the National Portrait Gallery, National Gallery, Channel 4 Sitcom Comedy Festival and the London Underground.

Read more about Carey on his website

Fotonow CIC

Fotonow CIC are a Plymouth-based social enterprise, specialising in community-focused photographic and film projects. The company brings together expertise in education, community development and media production to develop and run creative projects that make a difference to people’s lives and in particular give voice to underrepresented groups. Lead filmmaker James Ellwood has produced socially-engaged documentary work for over a decade, often focussing on environmental and social justice themes.

Find out more about Fotonow CIC

Creative Associates

The Sustainable Earth Institute's Creative Associates projects aim to explore novel and innovative ways of communicating research and develop a portfolio of case studies of the different creative approaches possible.

Find out more about the initiatives

Image: Carey Marks/Creative Associates