Climate change is a ‘hot’ topic at the moment. Or should we call it global warming? During the last decade a gradual change in preferred terminology from global warming to climate change began because that’s what the scientific community and governmental institutions called for. It is argued that global warming frames the situation about the temperature rise very negatively in comparison to the friendlier term climate change.
What is actually the correct reference? Both are used interchangeably and are commonly used in the media impersonating they have the same meaning. Take the BBC (2017) for example:
‘Scientists believe we are adding to the natural greenhouse effect with gases released from industry and agriculture (known as emissions), trapping more energy and increasing the temperature. This is commonly referred to as global warming or climate change.’
Nevertheless, global warming and climate change are substantially different. NASA elaborates that global warming is about the increasing temperature trend around the world since the early 20th century. This as a result of increase in fossil fuel emissions since the industrial revolution. On the other hand, NASA states that climate change points out a broad range of global phenomena created predominantly by burning fossil fuels, which add heat-trapping gases to Earth’s atmosphere. Take for example the upward temperature trend described by global warming, but also besets changes like sea level rise, ice mass loss around the world, shifts in flower/plant blooming and extreme weather events (NASA, 2018).
First of all, it is important to have a clear understanding of framing.
“Framing effects refer to behavioral or attitudinal outcomes that are not due to differences in what is being communicated, but rather to variations in how a given piece of information is being presented (or framed) in public discourse.” (Scheufele & Iyengar, 2014)
Imagine you are presented with either one of two statements that both use a different frame about climate change. Reading the presented statement, you might not even notice you’re being framed. It all happens right under your nose.
GAIN VS LOSS
Over the last couple of years, the challenge/war/race against climate change (each word frames the situation differently) has been heavily discussed. Several studies have been conducted to find out how framing influences people in regard to climate change.
Read the following two statements about climate change carefully form the research of Spence & Pidgeon (2010):
‘‘By mitigating climate change, we can prevent further increases in winter floods in maritime regions and flash floods throughout Europe.’’
‘‘Without mitigating climate change, we will see further increases in winter floods in maritime regions and flash floods throughout Europe.’’
Can you decipher which statement is framed through a ‘gain frame’ and which one through a ‘loss frame’? It might be obvious that statement 1 used a gain frame, while statement 2 was created with the help of a loss frame. But would you have noticed you’re being framed if presented with just one of the two statements?
Participants in the study of Spence et al. (2010) who had been presented with a gain frame rated the information as being significantly more positive. Furthermore, fear related emotions were significantly higher within loss framed conditions. Additionally, Morton, Rabinovich, Marshall, & Bretschneider (2010) found that higher uncertainty combined with a negative frame (highlighting possible losses) decreased individual intentions to behave environmentally. However, when higher uncertainty was combined with a positive frame (highlighting the possibility of losses not materializing) this produced stronger intentions to act.
LOCAL VS DISTANT
Inspect the following two images carefully form the research of Spence & Pidgeon (2010):
Fig. 1. Slide left to see local image, slide right to see distant image.
As you might have noticed, Image 2 makes use of the local frame while image 2 pictures the area in a distant frame. The results of Spence & Pidgeon (2010) study showed that individuals who had been presented with information relating to their local area rated the information as being more personally relevant. Wiest, Raymond, & Clawson (2015) confirm with their results that local framing for climate impacts with greater perceptions of severity of the threat, behavioral intentions to address the problem, and support for policy action among the public.
Studies examining personal experiences of climate change-related events highlight the potential to encourage climate action by framing it as happening now, in your neighborhood, and affecting people like you that is, psychologically close. By way of contrast other studies present a more nuanced picture in which psychological proximity does not always lead to more concern about or action on climate change (McDonald, Chai, & Newell, 2015).
Aforementioned statements are framed through equivalent framing, based on the following two assumptions as described in the study of Valenzuela, Piña and Ramírez (2017):
- The first assumption is that framing refers to differential modes of presentation for the exact same piece of information. As a result, the presented information is informationally equivalent across different frames. Statement 1 and 2 contain the exact same piece of information.
- Participants interpret the stimulus in line with the context in which it is framed in the particular experimental condition but have no reason to assume that it could also be seen differently if framed in an alternative way. Picture yourself being presented with only one of the two aforementioned statements. You won’t assume it can be seen in a different way because of framing.
SAVE THE WORLD?
It is safe to say by now that framing influences the way we interpret the presented information about climate change. This means that with the use of framing we can actively direct receivers of the information to think and act in specific ways. With for example the use of high uncertainty, combined with a positive frame (losses not materializing), acting against climate change will increase.
With climate change increasingly manifesting itself, we have to act altogether. We need to get people moving. It needs to be an act of mankind. Advocates against climate change have to make use of these different types of framing to change people’s attitudes and actions. Or do you think making use of these frames is actually deceiving and unethical? Or is it allowed when we’re talking about something as big as climate change?
McDonald, R. I., Chai, H. Y., & Newell, B. R. (2015). Personal experience and the “psychological distance” of climate change: An integrative review. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 44, 109–118. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jenvp.2015.10.003
Morton, T. A., Rabinovich, A., Marshall, D., & Bretschneider, P. (2010). The future that may (or may not) come: How framing changes responses to uncertainty in climate change communications. Global Environmental Change, 21(1), 103–109. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2010.09.013
Scheufele, D. A., & Iyengar, S. (2014). The State of Framing Research, 1(July). https://doi.org/10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199793471.013.47
Spence, A., & Pidgeon, N. (2010). Framing and communicating climate change: The effects of distance and outcome frame manipulations. Global Environmental Change, 20(4), 656–667. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-10-3120-5_5
Valenzuela, S., Piña, M., & Ramírez, J. (2017). Behavioral Effects of Framing on Social Media Users: How Conflict, Economic, Human Interest, and Morality Frames Drive News Sharing. Journal of Communication, 67(5), 803–826. https://doi.org/10.1111/jcom.12325
What is climate change? (2018, October 31). BBC. Retrieved from https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-24021772
Wiest, S. L., Raymond, L., & Clawson, R. A. (2015). Framing, partisan predispositions, and public opinion on climate change. Global Environmental Change, 31, 187–198. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2014.12.006