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Snap decision

Jessica Robertson , U.S. Geological Survey

Put down that polar bear pic and back away slowly.

Getting people to pay attention to climate change is a lot easier with the right image to illustrate your point. But what is the right image? Lonely, melting iceberg or passionate protestors — or something else entirely?

Science is here to help you choose.

Here are seven tips, based on research published this week in Global Environmental Change, for picking the best shot:

  1. Go natural. Choose people expressing real emotion. No stock images. No staged photo-ops. The real deal.
  2. Innovate. Try something new and unfamiliar (I repeat: no polar bears).
  3. Zoom out. Use the bigger picture to link everyday actions with their consequences. Congested highways and bad air quality happen because of all those individual gas-guzzlers.
  4. Clarify the consequences. Pick floods and fires over smokestacks or solar panels. The effects of climate change inspire stronger emotional responses than its causes or solutions. (But don’t forget to talk about those solutions!)
  5. Think global, show local. Show impacts at local scales — floodwater in your neighborhood, thanks to sea-level rise — to make problems more relatable.
  6. Avoid activists. Sorry, guys. Protest pictures can turn away people outside the movement.
  7. Read the room. These guidelines won’t work equally for everyone. If you’re aiming to reach, say, an American conservative, spotlight renewable energy over faraway climate impacts.