Framing the debate

In his article Ankelohe and beyond: communicating climate change, Simon Retallack mentions some recent work by the Frameworks Institute about how our frames of reference impact how we hear and respond to the world around us. He brings it up in the context of how the issue of global warming is communicated:

FrameWorks found that depicting global warming as being about "scary weather" evokes the weather "frame" which sets up a highly pernicious set of reactions, as weather is something we react to and is outside human control. We do not prevent or change it, we prepare for it, adjust to it or move away from it.

They suggest that when communicating climate change, we should change our frames of reference. That we should use the "words, metaphors, stories and images” in a way that create the right "triggers" for action.

Applying this approach to communications on climate change in the United States, the FrameWorks Institute drew several conclusions:

  • it recommended placing the issue in the context of higher-level values, such as responsibility, stewardship, competence, vision and ingenuity
  • it proposed that action to prevent climate change should be characterised as being about new thinking, new technologies, planning ahead, smartness, forward-thinking, balanced alternatives, efficiency, prudence and caring
  • conversely, it proposed that opponents of action be charged with the reverse of these values – irresponsibility, old thinking and inefficiency.

FrameWorks also recommended using a simplifying model, analogy or metaphor to help the public understand how global warming works – a "conceptual hook" to make sense of information about the issue. Instead of the "greenhouse-gas effect", which was found did not perform for most people, FrameWorks recommended talking about the "CO2 blanket" or "heat-trap" to set up appropriate reasoning. This would help, it argued, to refocus communications towards establishing the man-made causes of the problem and the solutions that already exist to address it, suggesting that humans can and should act to prevent the problem now.

(Emphasis mine.)

Hassan at Worldchanging then quotes New Zealand MP Jeanette Fitzsimons framing the recent budget as a "flat earth" budget – which fits puts that last idea into practice.