Framing Science

How do you play on the fragmented media system and the miserly nature of the public to persuade Americans to oppose major policy action on climate change? Conservative columnist George Will knows the “secret,” and he uses his understanding once again in today’s nationally syndicated column. It’s an old trick that conservatives have been using for more than two decades, as we cite in our recent Policy Forum article at Science.

The strategy is to consistently and exclusively argue that not only is the issue still scientifically uncertain, BUT even if the science were sound (another frame device), any action that the U.S. might take to curb greenhouse gases is futile, since China and India are going to blow any such efforts away with their massive populations, economic growth, and pollution.

President Bush continues to employ a variant of these two frames. See his recent comments in reaction to the Supreme Court case on greenhouse gas emissions. He doesn’t even mention “climate change” or “global warming,” instead he says he takes greenhouse gases very seriously, “that man is contributing to greenhouse gases,” but any action is futile unless China and India are on board. In part it’s framing by avoiding any mention of connection to warming or any climate impact.

Comments

  1. #1 Ben
    April 13, 2007

    What I find even more interesting in that arguement is that both economies are booming partially because America and other western countries are pouring money into their economies.

    I saw one statistic pointing out that Wal-Mart alone place over $18 Billion in China alone. India has, among other things, become the scrap yard of the oceans.

    That is probably the frame one would need to combat this. Corporate responsiblity to the economy and the environment (stop laughing) to stop exporting their carbon to the third world.

  2. #2 Jonathan Vause
    April 13, 2007

    Come on, try to look on the bright side. For a start, 1) he couldn’t quite bring himself to deny that climate change was happening; 2) though implying the existence of a massive conspiracy to mislead the American public (no evidence of paranoia there, then) he admits that 83% of Americans think it’s a serious problem; which 3) only leaves him the option of arguing that, right now, there ain’t no easy answers, which, let’s face it, is a fair comment. If this is the best the anti-science conservative movement can do, they’re losing.

  3. #3 mark
    April 13, 2007

    And he had to rely on the bogus CNW report to do it. When does it stop being framing and become lying?

  4. #4 Mike the Mad Biologist
    April 14, 2007

    There’s something else that stems from the denigration of the scientific evidence: by focusing on the issue of whether the problem even exists, Will et al. suck the oxygen out of any debates over what should and could actually be done. I’ve learned from my time in public health that people get very frustrated when you give them problems without solutions. They tend to wander off and ignore your issue. In the case of global warming, I think many people don’t rank the issue higher in importance because they haven’t heard a clear program of solutions (to the extent solutions are proposed, they are all over the place and often compete with each other for attention and resources).

  5. #5 Ted
    April 15, 2007

    In the case of global warming, I think many people don’t rank the issue higher in importance because they haven’t heard a clear program of solutions (to the extent solutions are proposed, they are all over the place and often compete with each other for attention and resources).

    Come on. One solution is to reduce consumption and to disincentivize wasteful behavior.

    The problem is that people don’t want to change their behavior. It’s like weighing 350lbs, but deciding that exercise and diet is not a solution when gastric bypass is available down the line. Changing your lifestyle is difficult, but it is a solution.

    …by focusing on the issue of whether the problem even exists, Will et al. suck the oxygen out of any debates over what should and could actually be done.

    A solution is to have alternative media where counterexamples can be given by measured, non-adversarial responses. George Will is NOT essential to this debate.