What George Will Understands about Framing
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."
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.
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