Welcome to my website

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I am Associate Professor in Geography at the University of Exeter, UK. My research explores the social science dimensions of climate variability and climate change, particularly in terms of climate change communication and public engagement. My work examines the diverse places in which people experience climate change in their everyday lives: from personal attachments to valued places, to interactions on social media. From 2012-2017, I held an ESRC Future Research Leader Fellowship titled ‘Visualising Climate Change’.

I am currently working on a longitudinal analysis of visual images of climate change from UK newspapers. A paper summarising the findings from a decade’s worth of visual coverage (in the 2000s, a mobilising period for climate change engagement) is in press for Climatic Change, as part of the ‘Practising Everyday Climate Cultures’ Special Issue edited by Julie Doyle, Nathan Farrell and Mike Goodman. I am also using this dataset to investigate how polar bears have become a ‘hypericon’ of climate change, and what this means for how we engage with the issue of climate change (manuscript in preparation).

I am continuing to work with collaborator Hywel Williams to examine networks, circulation and engagements with climate images on social media. Most recently, we are using an innovative combination of quantitative data science methods and qualitative visual analysis to examine how Twitter users construct climate imaginaries through visual imagery. This work will form part of a Special Issue on ‘Climate Imaginaries’ for submission to Environment and Planning E: Nature and Space, guest edited by Simin Davoudi, Ruth Machen and Elizabeth Brooks. 

I am interested in how people experience climate change adaptation and deal with climate risk in their everyday lives: whether that is responding to extreme heat, drought, flooding, fire or other events. For example, a recent article in Progress in Disaster Science, led by RMIT colleague John Handmer, examines the risk of dying in a bushfire by undertaking a comparative analysis of fatalities and survivors of the 2009 ‘Black Saturday’ wildfires in Victoria, Australia.

My teaching at Exeter reflects these research interests. I convene an interdisciplinary second year module Climate Change: Science and Society which attracts both BA and BSc geographers. Students are challenged to think about the interlinked human and physical geographic dimensions of climate change by taking part in topical debates about climate change. Past debate topics have included: ‘Geoengineering is morally wrong and should be avoided’, ‘Social media has polarised the debate on climate change’ and ‘Climate change has already triggered civil wars and conflict.’ New for 2019-20, and inspired by the ‘C-Challenge’ teaching of Karen O’Brien and Robin Leichenko, we are asking students to undertake a week-long challenge to address an aspect of climate change mitigation or adaptation (e.g. related to food, travel, waste or energy use), and to reflect on the opportunities and barriers for climate action which they have experienced. I also supervise third year dissertation students working on climate and environment issues, and those using visual methods or undertaking media-related research. I was delighted to be nominated by my dissertation students for an Exeter Guild Teaching Award in the category of ‘Best Supervisor’ for academic year 2018-19.

I supervise five inspiring PhD students based in a diversity of departments (Geography, Psychology, Computer Science) at two universities (Exeter, Bath). Four of these students are funded through the  ESRC SWDTP. I have co-supervised a further three PhD students to completion. I welcome approaches from potential PhD students who wish to carry out research in an area aligned to my interests.

I was awarded the 2011 UK Scopus Young Researcher Award 2011 (Social Sciences) a prize given to the most highly-cited early-career researchers, based on citation data and jury assessment. My H index = 26 (as of March 2019).

I have had two year-long periods of maternity leave (2015-16 and 2017-18), returning to work part-time (Monday, Wednesday, Thursday). Please note these days when getting in touch.

I tweet about climate change, risk perception, communication, media, imagery and being a part-time academic/working mum @SaffronJONeill.

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Research video: ‘Visualising climate change’

I’m currently visiting the Center for Technology and Policy Research (CSTPR) at the University of Colorado-Boulder. As part of my visit, I took a seminar: ‘Place Attachment, Performance, and Climate Change Adaptation’ on Wednesday. The presentation drew on research done in collaboration with Dr Sonia Graham at the University of Melbourne, investigating how participant-created images (in this case, photos) can be used to engage and empower people to imagine climate adaptation futures. Click through to the CSTPR page for the seminar abstract.

I’m always interested in finding new ways to communicate my research, so I’ve been working with Tom Lowe at Polygraph Productions to help make my research more accessible. The research I presented in the CSTPR seminar is summarised in the short video below. Thanks to all the participants who were filmed – they used the photo-elicitation project to offer some great insights into living with flooding and sea-level rise.

Visualising Climate Change from Tom Lowe on Vimeo.