If you were to ask a classroom full of children to draw a picture for an environmental cause of any kind – whether it’s climate change or pollution or even littering – many of them will draw something that includes a blue globe with green continents on it. Or some green blobs roughly approximating the continents.
I was thinking about this the other day because if you look at actual satellite pictures, the continents are not all green. Some parts of the world are sandy-coloured, some parts are white. Britain looks green, unless Southern England is experiencing a dry summer. Madagascar is sandy beige, almost orange down the middle, with a thin stripe of green down the East coast.
It’s not just children. Adults draw the earth this way, and illustrators, and the designers of environmental campaign logo and communications.
It’s such as small thing, but even the simple act of colouring all the world’s continents in green obscures the inequalities of climate change.
I know it’s a shorthand. If I’m in a hurry, this is how I draw the earth too. But subconsciously and accidentally, the iconography of environmentalism universalises the globe into one green and blue marble. Let me write that again in shorter words: green and blue logos make every part of the world look the same.
And the world is not all the same. The impact of extra warming on the ‘green and pleasant land’ of England looks very different to extra warming in a desert, or in an arid landscape on the brink of becoming a desert. It is the sandy and the white parts of the globe that are most at risk from climate change, and that are most obscured by drawing it all green.
Does the imagery we create of the planet colour our imagination of the climate crisis? What if the people writing the books about climate change all live in the green parts of the world? What if the green NGOs all have their headquarters in the green places? How do we better represent the viewpoints from the white or sandy continents? How can we communicate better than not every part of the world is equally responsible for, nor equally vulnerable to, the climate emergency?