Picturing climate change

S Brönnimann
2002 Climate Research (CR)  
The debate on climate change and anthropogenic influence on climate has a long history, which involves more than just scientific findings and meteorological observations. In this paper, the question of how the scientific concept of climate change has been communicated to the public in the past and currently is studied on behalf of pictures and historical analyses. Popularising publications about climate change today are sometimes illustrated with pictures showing palm trees and glaciers
more » ... nd glaciers together in one scenery. This is nothing new: the motif of palm trees and glaciers has been used for the same purpose already early in the 20 th century. Several examples of such illustrations are presented and discussed in a historical context. The basic meaning is that palms stand for warm climate and glaciers for coldness, both together signify climatic change. The use of this motif to illustrate climate change originates in the popularisation of the theory of ice ages and climates in Earth's history, which took place towards the end of the 19 th century. At about the same time, the motif of palms and glaciers was also used in tourist advertisement for certain alpine destinations. In this case, the motif stands for the variety of the alpine landscapes, which offers spectacular high-mountain sceneries and exotic flora close to each other. It is suggested that the use of this motif to illustrate climate change in the early 20 th century expresses an ambivalence towards climate change, consisting of age-old concerns about extremes of climate on the one hand and tourist illusions of a warm climate on the other. Towards the end of the 20 th century, the motif appears in context with the popularisation of the concept of anthropogenic global warming. The ambivalence has given rise to a clear negative value judgement. Today, photos of recent extreme weather events are used more often than palm trees and glaciers to illustrate climate change.
doi:10.3354/cr022087 fatcat:q2x6g5rhtra33cjbwjj2rkddau