Bypass the hang-ups with the ‘preparation frame’

With more and more extreme weather events being linked to climate change, the climate debate is shifting from ‘whether’ it is happening to ‘how’ it is happening. This is a guest blog by Max Leighton, Research Intern for COIN, about a new approach to framing climate change impacts from Climate Access.

At the beginning of March, the US climate change communication specialists Climate Access released a new guide titled, ‘The Preparation Frame: A Guide to Building Understanding of Climate Impacts and Engagement in Solutions.’ The guide is based on trends in public opinion and synthesises over one hundred social science studies, as well as tools and best practices from climate leaders who are already engaging communities in preparation efforts. Climate Access argue that framing climate change around the idea of ‘preparation’ might go a long way to engaging audiences who otherwise are not interested in climate impacts.

The first principle of preparation framing explores how to initiate a conversation and engage an audience. Naturally, it is best to start with the most pertinent issues. For example, a communicator may start a conversation with issues surrounding water availability for farmers, or the best use of resources when talking to community leaders.

This may not even mean mentioning ‘climate change’ initially as this can alienate some audiences from the get-go – although as COIN’s own work shows, it is important not to propagate a ‘climate silence’ by ignoring it altogether.

The guide also suggests focussing on local, relevant and observable impacts. People and their security should be prioritised as the number one point of discussion, to overcome the perception that climate change is a distant, far-away issue. We invest a lot in our surrounding environment. We build relationships within, as well as with these areas, so talking about the threats to them, as well as how to protect them engages audiences on an emotional level.

Along with feelings of distance are those of uncertainty. Uncertainty – real or manufactured – plagues the climate change movement. It is sometime used as a justification for inaction even by those who are convinced climate change is a definitive diagnosis. The guide suggests “flipping the problem of uncertainty on its head.” Much like an insurance policy, uncertainty can be framed as a very genuine reason to mitigate climate change and adapt to it by outlining different scenarios where not acting under uncertainty is an unwise choice to make.

The guide also identifies a solution to bypass the acute politicisation of climate change by building discussions around ‘non-partisan values.’ Climate Access argues that examples of such values are ‘responsibility,’ ‘stewardship,’ ‘fairness,’ how it is ‘better to be prepared,’ and ideas of ‘protection and safety.’

The idea of ‘non-partisan’ values is an interesting one: climate science has become so heavily politicised, that being able to get beyond this is very appealing. But should the politics of climate change be avoided or embraced? Should this be tackled by trying to create non-partisan discussion or by attempting to bridge the political spectrum with a more bipartisan approach, such as COIN’s work on engaging centre-right constituencies?

A common trope in climate change communication is the need to articulate a vision. A clean, green, healthy vision. A vision of the smog clearing, health improving, energy and water prices decreasing in a town peppered with solar panels, connected to a smart grid and maybe even a tidal lagoon a few miles down the coast. Promoting and presenting practical solutions and a vision of the future is crucial for engaging wider audiences. Climate Access suggests climate communicators should articulate what will get better if action is taken and highlight existing success stories, an approach used by 10:10’s in their ‘it’s happening’ campaign.

Providing a sense of positivity around a framing of ‘preparedness’ is far more likely to create impetus for change.

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