Photojournalism As A Tool To Implement Change In The Climate Sector
Climate change has become an important topic in world deliberations, with its effects being felt in every corner of our planet. Climate change refers to prolonged shifts in natural temperatures and weather cycles. The phenomenon, which is caused by the release of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, has led to rise in sea levels, loss of biodiversity and desertification. The excessive release of such gases is due to human activities such as the extraction and utilization of fossil fuels, deforestation, pollution and certain agricultural practices.
Although climate change has been placed on the forefront of world issues today as scientists, world leaders and climate activists look for solutions, it is not a new concept. Since the 1990’s scientists have debated the effects of greenhouse gas emissions while warning of the effects of increased emissions into the atmosphere. There was a discovery that coal gas, methane and chlorofluorocarbons (CFC’s) are more effective at absorbing solar radiation leading to ozone layer depletion. Ozone layer depletion has been found to cause skin cancer, cataract, and development of weak immune systems in humans. This discovery, combined with the understanding that the increase in carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from transportation and industrialisation were facts that could no longer be ignored. Why then does it seem that no one listened?
Since most of the world (the masses of the developing world across Latin America, Asia & Africa) was not even aware of these debates occurring among scientists, policymakers, political elites & international institutions. On the other hand, in the Global North the topic of climate change was perceived as abstract and non-relatable. This narrative was pushed by industry leaders and manufacturers who knew the consequences but kept it secret and tried at every turn to block climate change policies from being enacted. The skepticism continued, even though everyday changing rain patterns, higher temperatures, droughts and wildfires increasingly occurred all over the world. Only until the circulation of satellite images of the polar ice caps and pictures of polar bears standing on small sheets of ice surrounded by a vast ocean, did most people begin to realize that the world was in fact in trouble.
Since the invention of digital cameras and cell phones, photography and visual media have become a big part of our daily lives, especially on social media platforms. Images make it easier for people to understand a concept, and it helps us to reflect on how our planet is changing. Media activism, using media and communication technologies, allows people from different levels of society to lend a voice, organise and achieve social change.
An example of this was in 1975 when Greenpeace launched the world’s first anti-whaling campaign aimed at showing the grotesque practices of the whaling industry, which was leading to the decline of whale populations and their inevitable extinction. With the aid of media activism, rallies and protests around the world, the campaign proved instrumental in securing the 1986 international ban on commercial whaling. According to Greenpeace, as of May 2020, humpback whale populations had returned to 93% of their pre-whaling size. Another recent example of using multimedia tools to bring about social change would be the effects of viral pictures and videos of marine life getting stuck in plastic garbage and orangutans made homeless from deforestation.
With the age of social media, it is not uncommon for people to get engaged with a cause because of the images associated with it. Platforms like Instagram, Facebook and Twitter can reach a larger audience than traditional media. Viral pictures and videos of people pulling straws out of the noses of sea turtles and disentangling marine animals from plastic bags got most people talking about the consumption of single use plastic products and their disposal. These images led to people looking for alternatives to these plastic products and demanding accountability from corporations that are responsible or contribute in one way or the other to these problems. These messages have also seeped into the movie industry and led to Hollywood producing films like, Don’t Look Up and Deep Water Horizon, making it obvious in several genres that things cannot continue as they were.
In each of these cases, multimedia agents were used to open the eyes of the public, a vast majority of whom were oblivious to the harm that was being done. From these cases it is certain that climate journalism is one of the greatest tools in the fight against climate change. Many have noted that although individual efforts are necessary to reduce plastic pollution and carbon emission, climate journalism can also act as an indispensable tool to hold big corporations and western governments responsible as well.
World governments have pledged with the Paris Agreement and Kyoto Protocol to reduce emissions and fight climate change. Yet individuals must once again rise up to the challenge and continue to remind them of the effects on disadvantaged communities and countries most likely to feel the brunt of climate change. It is based on this awareness that Clean Technology Hub launched its The Environment Through Your Eyes Photo Series. This project arose as a result of a lack of visual effects of climate change and environmental pollution in Nigeria and is aimed at giving environmentally conscious photojournalists a platform to showcase their work as well as amp up awareness of climate change and environmental pollution in Nigeria.
Hopefully, relevant stakeholders will be inspired by this initiative and recreate it in their own communities to bring us a step closer to a climate-stable earth.
Ifechi Anikwe* is an Environment & Climate Action Intern at Clean Technology Hub