“That's the wonder of it”: Affective dimensions of visual rhetoric for biodiversity conservation

Laura McGrath, Kennesaw State University


In environmental communication, audience engagement is an essential prerequisite for achieving persuasive aims. This article responds to recent interest in visual storytelling and emotionalization - purposeful display and elicitation of emotions - as engagement techniques. A case study of the 2020 Global Biodiversity Festival - part online science festival, part fundraising event - provides evidence of how these techniques are employed in environmental communication for biodiversity conservation. Informed by scholarship on affect, emotion, visual rhetoric, and environmental communication, the case study analysis shows how visual representations of nature, mediated experiences of nature, and accompanying narration orient festival audiences toward specific ways of seeing and feeling that foreground emotional commitments and draw audiences into potentially transformative encounters. The visual rhetoric and affective dimensions of the festival's website, virtual field trips, and multimodal presentations focus attention, create moments of connection, and call audiences to action. The case study analysis also reveals how the festival, planned in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, treats this crisis as a kairotic moment for encouraging awareness, care, and pro-environmental behaviors.