Some Thoughts On How To Market Global Climate Change

This is from a paper by Marian Farrior, for Project Dragonfly: Emerging Trends in Communications and Social Science:


Strategic frame analysis has been used in communication campaigns about children’s issues, health care, gender equity, wage equity, race, government, and the environment, namely toxins (Natural Resource Defense Council’s Detox Our Home campaign at, oceans (The Ocean Conservancy and NRDC) and global warming (Climate Message Project).

In the FrameWorks Institute’s “Talking Global Warming” CD-Rom (FrameWorks Institute, 2003b), when researchers looked at the issue of global warming, they found that currently the issue is framed as “weather,” and therefore global warming is viewed in the following ways:

• It’s natural and not human caused
• There’s nothing you can do about it
• It’s a consequence; no solutions are offered
• One can only make an adaptive response

Other problematic aspects of current frames applied to global warming include:

• It’s an economic issue
• It’s a necessary evil
• Environmentalists are ascetics
• Pragmatic compromises have to be made

The cognitive hierarchy for global warming looks like this:

Level 1 - Values — Act of God/Nature
Level 2 - Issue type — Weather
Level 3 - Specific Issue — Global warming

Many people believe global warming is a real problem, and they understand its negative consequences. However, they are not sufficiently familiar with solutions to the problem and will thus make an adaptive response to protect themselves and their families. They don’t understand the human causes of global warming and the potential solutions, and they are turned off by the tone of the debate. To reframe the issue of global warming, the analogy is that instead of telling the story of Chicken Little, we should tell the story of the Little Engine that Could.

Because the research demonstrated that most people knew little about greenhouses and thus were not being educated about the impact of greenhouse gases, the FrameWorks Institute reframed global warming as a carbon dioxide problem that traps heat, causing environmental damage. Because it is a human-made problem, there are human-made solutions, this frame asserted. We have a responsibility to address this problem, and we can use managerial planning skills to help. The reframed cognitive hierarchy looks like this:

Level 1- Values — Stewardship, responsibility, ingenuity
Level 2 - Issue type — Solutions/technology
Level 3 - Specific issue — Carbon dioxide problem

The reframing of global warming yielded these campaign suggestions:

• Appeal to Level One values that are characteristic of Americans’ entrepreneurial values, such as taking responsible action, using managerial planning skills, and being visionary.
• Introduce familiar environmental concerns before talking about global warming.
• Introduce a simplified model of global warming, one that incorporates human-made causes and solutions.
• Make the problem manageable by explaining how it works, that it is human caused, and the causes and consequences of global warming.
• Give solutions high priority, and get them into the message early. Highlight solutions for the present and future, and explain specific policy solutions.
• Describe consequences without sounding extreme.
• Appeal to people as problem solvers, and challenge leaders to be innovative.
• Use a reasonable, not rhetorical, tone.
• Use messengers associated with the frame, such as scientists who are also educators, business managers, science innovators, religious leaders, and environmentalists.
• Be strategic in the presentation of facts and numbers.

Other researchers offer complementary views on this same set of issues. In general, two types of metaphors are typically used in environmental discourse:

  1. martial or apocalyptic metaphors (e.g., “the war against nature,” “the battle over nature”), which portray the issue as humans versus nature or the environment versus the economy, and
  2. sustainable development metaphors (e.g., “we are all in this together”), which convey an image of building connections between the environment and the economy (Valiverronen and Hellsten, 2002:230).

The metaphors that have been identified with biodiversity in apocalyptic or holocaust narratives are “the library of life” and “the museum of life.” These metaphors associate biodiversity with information, connect biodiversity to the arts, and evoke a feeling of responsibility to save unique things for future generations. In sustainable development narratives, biodiversity is called “the web of life” and “a network of relations”; this metaphor of connections is more abstract and does not evoke powerful images of irreversible loss the way the destruction of a library or museum does. Hence the authors suggest that martial images of fear and destruction are more useful, in calling forth rapid political mobilization (Valiverronen and Hellsten, 2002:238).

In the global arena, environmental discourse is shifting from conflict to consensus and the polarity between the environmental and economic considerations is overcome through references to sustainability and global concerns. The benefits of biodiversity are then calculated as “ecosystem services” and “green medicine. These metaphors of biodiversity as a repository and treasury “put forward the idea of ecological modernization and ecological sustainability” (Valiverronen and Hellsten, 2002: 240). Similarly, the metaphor of biodiversity as our “common heritage” implies that “biodiversity is one of the international commodities that can be exploited to a certain extent but still needs to be preserved for future generations” (Valiverronen and Hellsten, 2002: 241). Another metaphor that is emerging in the sustainability literature is biodiversity as a “life support system.” More empirical research needs to be done to identify appealing and motivating metaphors for biodiversity.

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