Representing Climate Change?

Writing about climate change often requires some type of visual reference particularly given the way our eyes are drawn to the visual in social media settings and more generally in public debate. But how do you visually represent the human-induced climate disruption we are now living through? As Naomi Klein has demonstrated so powerfully, climate change ‘changes everything’! And yet despite its profound impacts, it is a phenomenon that is also diffuse across space and time.

This was an issue that I confronted late last year when Daniel Nyberg and I completed the manuscript for our forthcoming book Climate Change, Capitalism and Corporations: Processes of Creative Self-Destruction. With the draft manuscript sent off to the publishers, we then agonised over the book cover design. An early offer from the publishers presented a somewhat anodyne image of suited business people on an  escalator (the sort of thing one sees everyday on management textbook covers) – probably relevant in that context but nothing really about climate change.

An obvious possibility were the numerous powerful images of extreme weather events like the flooded New York taxis following Superstorm Sandy in 2012, or the haunting imagery of communities destroyed in the Philippines after Typhoon Haiyan in November 2013. These and other extreme events feature in our book, however there was an element of voyeurism in placing such disasters and human suffering on a book cover. More importantly these images while extremely powerful, did not really capture the key focus of our book; the role of corporate capitalism in fueling the climate crisis.

The key theme of our book is the idea that we currently live in an era of creative self-destruction in which economic expansion relies upon the continued exploitation of natural resources. We argue climate change has revealed this underlying dynamic in its starkest form: the potentially cataclysmic trade-off between economic and environmental well-being in which businesses are encouraged to devour the very life-support systems of a habitable planet. Indeed, we are doing this with increasing vigour and ingenuity despite scientific warnings that we are precipitating dangerous climate change. This is evident in the race to exploit new, non-conventional fossil fuel sources such as deepwater and Arctic oil drilling, tar sands processing and coal-seam and shale gas fracking.

So we were looking for an image which pointed to the motive forces underlying our ‘creative self-destruction’ – the forces of corporate capitalism, neoliberalism and the rapacious consumption of nature.


After some searching we stumbled on a very striking painting by US artists Theodore Bolha and Chris Davis called Insatiable which did capture these themes. Its confronting and powerful and has attracted lots of comments but conveys our argument that we need to challenge the comfortable economic and political assumptions that underpin our current suicidal madness!

The book will be out in late September and you can read more about it at this new website.

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