El Niño in the Public Imagination
El Niño is often described in the media as a universal scourge that brings nothing but destruction. The last 40 years may, however, be the only period in human history where this description is not correct. This is because the El Niño presented in the media is not the physical phenomenon; it is instead an idea of El Niño, what might be termed ‘El Niño in the public imagination’. This idea is enabled by uncertainties within the science of El Niño and reinforced by the names ‘El Niño’ and ‘La Niña’, which provide a gender and personality. This chapter argues that, since the end of the twentieth century, the idea of El Niño has had as important an effect on society as the phenomenon itself.