Thursday, January 7, 2010

Framing Climate

The presentation of science has been gaining a bit more attention recently, particularly around the issue climate change. The release of thousands of emails from a climate research unit in England (dubbed Climategate by skeptics) as well as the recent climate conference in Copenhagen have stirred up many conversations around the techniques of science framing and coverage. This interview with Matthew Nisbet is a great summary of some strategies – actual and potential – for reframing climate change and engaging the public. Nisbet, a professor of communication at American University in DC, coined the phrase "framing science" and has been writing about it for several years. Here are some of his insights:

Why the "crisis" frame doesn't work: 
"As an alternative strategy for generating greater public engagement, many environmental advocates and some journalists have attempted to reframe the issue in terms of "climate crisis."...This environmental catastrophe frame, however, is either not personally relevant enough to build broad-based support for action, is dismissed as remote and far off in the future, or is easily challenged as "alarmism," shifting public attention back to a paralyzing and false narrative that emphasizes contrarian views of climate science."

What frames would work better:
"Newly emerging perceptual contexts hold the promise of resonating with a broader coalition of Americans and social groups. Over time, these new meanings for climate change are likely to be key drivers of public engagement and, eventually, policy action. For example, Al Gore's more recent WE campaign has emphasized the moral imperative to to "repower America" through new energy technology and increased energy efficiency...

A second example of the moral imperative to take action is scientist E.O. Wilson's best-selling 2006 book The Creation: An Appeal to Save Life on Earth. In this book, Wilson frames environmental stewardship as not only a scientific matter, but also as a religious one...With this frame, Wilson has engaged Christian readers and media outlets that might not otherwise pay attention to popular science books or appeals related to climate change...

The public health implications of climate change have also emerged as a potentially powerful interpretive resource for engaging the public. This frame makes climate change personally relevant to new audiences by connecting the issue to health problems that are already familiar and perceived as important such as childhood asthma, food borne illness; and urban heat waves."

On social media and framing:
"With new forms of user-centered and user-controlled digital media such as blogs, online video, and social media sites, "bottom up" alternative frames are gaining greater influence in policy debates over issues such as climate change...government and foundation-led initiatives should focus on building a "participatory" public media infrastructure for science and environmental information.
We should think of these new models for non-profit science media as an integral part of the infrastructure that local communities need to adapt to climate change, to move forward with sustainable economic development, and to participate in the national policy debate."

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