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.

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):

Statement 1:

‘‘By mitigating climate change, we can prevent further increases in winter floods in maritime regions and flash floods throughout Europe.’’

Statement 2

‘‘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.

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.

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.

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.

Scheufele, D. A., & Iyengar, S. (2014). The State of Framing Research, 1(July).

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.

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.

What is climate change? (2018, October 31). BBC. Retrieved from

Wiest, S. L., Raymond, L., & Clawson, R. A. (2015). Framing, partisan predispositions, and public opinion on climate change. Global Environmental Change, 31, 187–198.

Frederik Kempe

Author Frederik Kempe

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Join the discussion 9 Comments

  • Sander Akkermans schreef:

    You took a very interesting approach with linking framing to climate change and covered a lot of terms and aspects of framing in your blog. Well done.

    I do believe that framing takes place practically always. How content is framed can vary, but there is always some form of framing present. As you indicate in the blog, positive framing has a positive effect on the audience. Current news on climate change often indicates that something needs to be done now, but often also indicates that no actions are taken to prevent change on the subject discussed in the same article, which occurs as a setback for readers. Therefore, I do not think that framing on climate change is deceiving or unethical. Instead climate change has been proven scientifically many times and action needs to be taken. I do think, however, that the framing used should be positive, and one which both warns people and engages to take action.

    • Frederik Kempe schreef:

      I do agree that framing is inevitable. And you’re right; most of the time news on climate change indicate change is needed. Sadly in most situations no action is taken. I hope that with the use of the right form of framing we could activate people to make an effort in the race against climate change.

  • D. K. Degeling schreef:

    Even the toughest subjects can be introduced with a word joke — good job. I don’t think, in this case, that it would be wrong to use gain or local frames in articles about climate change — equivalence framing, on the other hand, I think, has a more deceiving nature. With equivalence framing you are actively holding back certain “facts” that are part of a more complex narrative to have your audience focus on only the aspect that you are highlighting. For example, advocating for a tax on certain climate polluting products and how this would help against climate change without mentioning the impact it might have on families that have a low income, is not OK, in my view. In the battle against climate change we should not forget that we live in a societal system in which we can’t drop everything else and put all our focus on one issue. Everything is entangled. Nonetheless, climate change does deserve some priority pertaining to the impact we know it will have (a certain tax that dominated the public discourse the past year comes to mind — it would have been nice if the debate surrounding climate legislation generated the same amount of ‘heat’ — haha).

    • Frederik Kempe schreef:

      As you said; everything is entangled. There are so many issues that scream for our attention. Each of them saying they are more important than the other. The complex and hyperconnected world we live in makes it hard for us to focus on a couple of major things in particular. We are continuously triggered to pay attention to all sorts of information. I am with you; an increased debate surrounding climate legislation generating ‘heat’ could have made an impact in our ongoing struggles related to climate change.

  • Claire van Ingen schreef:

    First of all, nice blog, design-wise and content-wise.
    I agree with you that these types of framing are necessary to make a change. Climate change is destroying the earth and the main reason for this are humans. So to use these frames for making people’s attitude more active, I believe it is ethical to use framing. Even though according to NASA climate change and global warming can be defined as two different things, both are still about the devastating effects of the earth warming up. If climate change has a more negative wording to it, then I believe it is good to use climate change. That being said, however, there is still a lot of debate of what is ethical and what is not ethical to frame. In my opinion, in this case it is maybe even necessary to frame this topic in a certain way.

  • Anouk Vermulst schreef:

    Even though I do believe that framing can be unethical in some situations (I think framing in the case of serious health decisions such as abortion or vaccination is unethical), I do think that in such a global problem like climate change, it can have positive outcomes. Climate change is a huge problem, and it is only getting bigger as the years pass. If framing can help diminish the problem even a little bit, I do not think it is unethical. In the climate change problem, I believe that we should use whichever frames work best. This might influence readers, but as long as it has a positive outcome, we should accept the fact that readers are influenced if it helps the cause.

    Your blog is very interesting to read and has nice visual elements. Very well done!

  • Michelle Schouten schreef:

    Really intriguing blog! Climate change is a topic that gets a lot of attention nowadays and it was interesting to read how they framed this in different ways. I agree with the other reviewers, that I’m not really sure if making use of frames about climate change is a bad thing. I think it’s good to make the public ‘awake’ about the fact that climate change is really happening. Especially when bringing people into action I think using a frame is sometimes necessary if it’s telling the truth and the necessity of the topic. So, I don’t approve framing but in this case it couldn’t harm the public and it could be something positive by bringing people into action.

  • Manon van Rossum schreef:

    I like the way you linked the climate change on framing in your blogpost, as you said: “climate change is a hot topic at the moment”.

    Many climate change messages focus on the potential future consequences of not addressing climate change now. Interesting to read that people that been presented with a positive frame (gain frame) rated the information as being significantly more positive and that higher uncertainty combined with a negative frame (loss frame) decreased individual intentions to behave environmentally. While when higher uncertainty was combined with a positive frame this produced stronger intentions to act. So that means that we need to do the opposite, the climate change messages need to focus on the positive effect of addressing climate change.

    The way the media talks about climate change affects the way people think about it, but I think that there is no one-size-fits-all frame to motivate people to worry about climate change.

  • Adam Hjelt schreef:

    I think your take on the topic is very interesting and well thought out.

    As have been mentioned in the other comments I don’t necessarily believe that the nature of framing is wrong – framing does happen in all most all aspects of our lives and have therefore also become an intrinsic part of general discussions and argumentation.
    In the end of your blog you pose the question “Or is it allowed (to use framing) when we’re talking about something as big as climate change?” In my opinion this is a great wrap up to the blog and really puts forth an interesting topic for discussion. I think it’s a difficult to pose a complete answer, especially in regards to topics as Climate Change, which is a phenomenon which impacts not only you and me, but also our future generations. When that is said, I don’t believe that you could or should distinguish between topics in regards to if framing should be “allowed” – if that would be the case it does, in my opinion, just increase the complexity of validity of framing issues. Therefore, I would believe that the means does not justify the ends!

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