Tom Friedman: Time to Switch the Climate Change Frame
Matthew C. Nisbet, Ph.D. is Associate Professor of Communication Studies, Public Policy, and Urban Affairs at Northeastern University. Nisbet studies the role of communication and advocacy in policymaking and public affairs, focusing on debates over over climate change, energy, and sustainability. Among awards and recognition, Nisbet has been a Visiting Shorenstein Fellow on Press, Politics, and Public Policy at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, a Health Policy Investigator at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and a Google Science Communication Fellow. In 2011, the editors at the journal Nature recommended Nisbet's research as “essential reading for anyone with a passing interest in the climate change debate,” and the New Republic highlighted his work as a “fascinating dissection of the shortcomings of climate activism."
Readers of this blog should find the arguments in Tom Friedman's column today familiar. On climate change, Friedman argues that it's time to switch focus from cap and trade to a carbon tax, a policy that most Americans can understand.
But switching policy is not enough, you also have to switch the frame from a dominant focus on impending catastrophe to a focus on economic development or "American renewal." Here's how Friedman explains this economic development frame:
We need a price on carbon because it will stimulate massive innovation in the next great global industry -- E.T. -- energy technology. In a warming world with huge population growth, clean power systems are going to be in huge demand. The scientific research and innovation needed for America to dominate E.T. the way it did I.T. could be the foundation for a second American industrial revolution, plus it would tip the whole planet onto a greener path. So American economic renewal is the goal, but mitigating climate change would be the great byproduct.
Friedman also gets it right when he argues that not only does the lead frame need to change, but so do the lead spokespeople on the issue. According to Friedman, the person who needs to be front and center on climate change for the American public is Obama's National Security adviser General James Jones. (To this I would add, tailored to respective publics and communities, public health officials focusing on the health implications and Evangelical and religious leaders focusing on the moral dimensions of climate change.)
Based on his column, it's clear that Friedman understands the important connections between policy action and framing. For more on these connections, see this recent article at the journal Environment.
I will be talking about framing and climate change communication at a presentation today at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland.