2010-10-25 17:41:02Why it Matters How We Frame the Environment
John Cook


2009 Paper by George Lakoff: Why it Matters How We Frame the Environment. There's a full PDF link from the page. Highlights:

...looking back to the past, we find these quotes from a 2003 language advisory by Frank Luntz (p. 142) to the Bush administration, called Winning the Global Warming Debate: An Overview:
It’s time for us to start talking about ‘‘climate change’’ instead of global warming . . . ‘‘Climate change’’ is less frightening than ‘‘global warming’’ . . . Stringent environmental regulations hit the most vulnerable among us*the elderly, the poor and those on fixed incomes*the hardest . . . Job losses . . . greater costs . . . American corporations and industry can meet any challenge, we produce the majority of the world’s food, . . . yet we produce a fraction of the world’s pollution.
Luntz’ memo was the beginning of the use of ‘‘climate change.’’ The idea was that ‘‘climate’’ had a nice connotation*more swaying palm trees and less flooded out coastal cities. ‘‘Change’’ left out any human cause of the change. Climate just changed. No one to blame.

Here's another thought provoker:

...negating a frame just activates the frame, as when Nixon said, ‘‘I am not a crook’’ and everyone thought of him as crook. When President Obama said that he had no intention of a ‘‘government takeover,’’ he was activating the government-takeover frame.

Leading onto this problem:

Have you ever wondered why conservatives can communicate easily in a few words, while liberals take paragraphs? The reason is that conservatives have spent decades, day after day building up frames in people’s brains, and building a better communication system to get their ideas out in public. Progressives have not done that. As a result they have a hard time building up the appropriate system of frames from scratch.

And his final recommendations:

  • Talk at the level of values, and frame issues in terms of moral values. Distinguish values from policies. Always go on offense, never defense. Never accept the right’s frames*don’t negate them, or repeat them, or structure your arguments to counter them. That just activates their frames in the brain and helps them.
  • Provide a structured understanding of what you are saying. Don’t give laundry lists. Tell stories that exemplify your values and rouse emotions. Don’t just give numbers and material facts without framing them so their overall significance can be understood. Instead find general themes or narratives that incorporate the points you need to make.
  • Context matters: be aware of what’s going on. Address everyday concerns. Avoid technical jargon; use words people can understand. The messenger matters. Visuals matter. Body language matters.
2010-10-25 21:47:57What makes deniers tick?


A while ago, when I was writing a review of Ian Plimer's book, I began to see just how weird it is that highly competent people can take indefensible positions on questions in environmental science. There's nothing new about this - it happened after Rachel Carson's book in 1962, and as Oreskes & Conway have shown, it happened over harm from tobacco, acid rain, the ozone hole & now anthropogenic climate change. The spectacle that's so hard to understand is of people who should know better abusing evidence, affirming propositions that high school kids could refute, falsifying data, falling for crack-pot theories, vilifying colleagues, and ignoring everything that doesn't align with their prior convictions. It's not plausible to explain this behaviour as any kind of anomaly of intellect - what we see is pure prejudice (ie. a conviction unsupported by evidence) What needs explaining is why prejudice trumps scientific training, integrity and conscience.

That's where Lakoff is so good. The idea of cognitive frames - something he helped to discover - provides an account of how beliefs hang together. Why, for instance, climate denial goes with a package of "conservative" (but really reactionary & authoritarian) commitments; and why even high scientific competence in one discipline doesn't prevent gullible foolishness in another. Why such people are apparently untroubled by brutal antagonism toward opponents; why they are immune from argument, and why their rhetoric seems to be infected with moral or ideological purpose rather than scientific curiosity.

For advocates, this means we have to invent or find frames for the discourse on this new and frightening issue. It also means there is a category of people who will remain intransigent deniers, not to defend a material interest, but to prevent a disturbing cognitive dissonance. Right now, they've been empowered by money and powerful connections. We'll know we're getting somewhere when these drop away and intransigence becomes as marginal as it ought to be.

John Price