Purgatory islands and climate death-worlds: Interrogating the journalistic imperative to witness the climate crisis through the lens of war

In this article, I examine and critique how the current and predicted future impacts of climate change are often reported on through the aesthetics and discourse of war. I argue that the journalistic imperative to witness climate change is important to consider here. Indeed, news images and descriptive accounts of climate change are often privileged for their evidentiary value according to a very strict set of visual criteria shaped by an established definition of what violence and war look like. Through a multimodal analysis of news coverage of the aftermath of Hurricane María across prominent US news magazines, I examine what constitutes compelling evidence of climate change, why and to what end in terms of the types of responses featured and proposed by journalists. Ultimately, my analysis reveals how Puerto Rico is demarcated as a ‘death-world’ across publications, effectively casting Puerto Rico as a ‘purgatory island’ dependent on the help of the United States represented as a saviour.