Climate Communications Blog Series

Blog 2: The Importance of Framing

Briony Latter, 29th November 2018

Briony Latter square.jpg

This blog series explores different aspects of climate change communication. Talking to people about climate change and trying to engage them with the subject involves more than simply getting your facts straight. It’s really important to think about who your audience is and how you talk to people. In this second post, we share some information about framing and why it’s important to think about when discussing climate change.

The way in which climate change is framed can mean that the topic appeals to different audiences. The panel at our recent Green Christianity in a Fragile Planet event discussed climate change in a way that related to Christianity. This is different to what a climate change discussion with a Muslim or Hindu audience would be like, for example. Climate Outreach have produced an excellent guide which provides some good examples of how to do this well with the major religions. However, framing isn’t only something to think about when talking to faith groups. Would you talk to a teenager about climate change in the same way that you would discuss it with the elderly? How about someone living in a city compared to someone living in the countryside, or a friend with conservative values compared to someone you know who is more left-wing? As Adam Corner from Climate Outreach explains, “Climate change has been consistently ‘framed’ in the language of those with left-wing values and this is one of the biggest barriers to engaging wider groups”. You can read some suggestions about how to communicate with people on the centre-right of the political spectrum on our first blog post in this series here.

Photo by  Jes

Photo by Jes

Photo by  Andrew Bowden

Photo by Andrew Bowden

Climate change is often framed as a security issue, with phrases such as ‘the fight against climate change’ or ‘the war on climate change’ used regularly in the media. Research has shown that using war metaphors can highlight the importance of climate change but could also lead to a lack of concern. This could be seen as framing climate change in a fearful way, which can be problematic. Research by Saffron O’Neill and Sophie Nicholson-Cole has shown that although fear can make people take notice of climate change, it tends to be unsuccessful for engaging people with the subject in a meaningful way. An interesting example of this is the language used by the group Extinction Rebellion, who have been in the news recently for blocking bridges and roads in London to draw attention to inaction on climate change. Their name alone is very evocative, and their website uses words and phrases such as ‘fight’, ‘global emergency’, ‘survive’, ‘destruction’ and ‘annihilated’. While framing climate change in this way certainly highlights the seriousness of the issue and draws attention to it, it is not an approach that will work for everyone.

Think about how you might frame a discussion about climate change with your MP. This could depend on whether you have a Conservative or Labour MP, or what climate-related issues there are in your local area. If you meet your MP, think about what action you would like them to take and what you will ask them to do. On our What can I ask my MP to do? page, we suggest that you frame your ‘Ask’ around your MP’s main interests and values such as their role in government, or frame your Ask around a local issue such as air pollution.

Although it’s important to think about how you frame climate change for particular audiences, finding the right way to do so isn’t an easy fix. It can take time to get people engaged with the subject and it’s important to find a way to have meaningful conversations with them. Building a good relationship with your MP may involve having contact with them on several occasions, from writing a letter to meeting them in person and following up after the meeting.

Hope for the Future Case Study

Andrew Mitchell, MP for Sutton Coldfield.

Andrew Mitchell, MP for Sutton Coldfield.

To Sutton Coldfield MP, Andrew Mitchell, tackling climate change meant possible detriments to his local economy as a huge base for car manufacturing. With this in mind, we knew going into a meeting with Mr Mitchell focusing on reducing emissions from vehicles would only be received badly. Instead, we re-framed our conversation to talk about the huge opportunities of electric vehicles in the UK, and the possibility of the West Midlands being the manufacturing base for greener cars. The meeting was a success and Andrew Mitchell went on to campaign on a fleet of electric taxis in his constituency.