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Some thoughts on framing

March 1, 2010

Update: more on framing from Andy Revkin:

Earthquakes don’t kill people, buildings do.

I’ve run across a few interesting bits on “framing” climate change today. It’s interesting, but also very important to pay attention to how we frame policy problems. It can mean the difference between progress and banging your head against a wall.

Roger Pielke Jr has highlighted two very different framings of climate policy by Senator Lindsey Graham and Al Gore appearing in today’s New York Times. Gore’s framing sets up the debate to be polarized, and very much focused on political winners and losers. Meanwhile, Graham is interested in finding common ground and shared values in the way we talk about climate. This strikes me as a crucial distinction: should we be focused on figuring out who is right and who is wrong, or focus instead on figuring out how to work together? It sounds cliche, but the approach matters tremendously. Research on toxic chemicals is another great example of this.

Leigh Ewbank has also just posted some interesting thoughts about how to frame climate change in Australia:

I have presented ‘nation building’ as an alternative way to frame climate and energy policy in Australia.

The idea of nation building is not unique but Australians have a particular admiration for government projects that strengthen the nation. Investment in renewable energy and associated enabling infrastructure are central to our response to climate change and its ability to be framed in terms of nation building is a strategic leverage point. It is capable of winning a greater degree of public support than the complex market mechanism the Rudd Government—and many climate advocates—seek to implement. This approach demonstrates the potential to mitigate and adapt to our changing climate without the phenomenon being the central frame for policy responses.

Interestingly, as I wrote about here, this very theme has emerged in arguments for more climate science funding in Australia. In that case, it’s as much about building the status of the nation on the international scene as it is about building more tangible strengths of internal relevance.

We had a bit of discussion yesterday about adaptation to climate change as a question of physical impacts, as opposed to a social process very much dependent on institutions, vulnerability, and social capacity. This was focused on research policy – what kinds of scientific questions should we be asking in order to generate useful information. As one commenter pointed out, many of the questions that seem new to people in the climate science community seem like old hat in other fields. People have been pointing this out for years, but injecting new ideas into climate science policy has been a long, slow process.

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