Thursday, 14 May 2009

Reframing climate change, part I

A big problem with climate change may be “climate change”.

I am with George Monbiot when he says that the term “climate change” does not really explain the impact of what we are doing to the earth’s atmosphere. In a recent blog, Monbiot pointed to the devastating implications that we are already seeing for global food security, water supplies and human settlement and called “climate change”:

“. . . a ridiculously neutral term for the biggest potential catastrophe humankind has ever encountered.”

Yet most UK media coverage of the issues uses what Matt Nesbitt calls the “Pandora’s Box” frame of “looming climate crisis”, with depictions of polar bears perched precariously on shrinking ice floes or famous cities under water. He suggests that

“One of the unintended consequences of this line of communication is that it plays into the hands of climate sceptics and further reinforces the partisan divide in climate change perceptions.”

Nesbitt was writing in the American context, where the issues play differently. But some UK commentators have suggested that the way that “climate change” is discussed and reported is too alarmist and deters people from taking action. The IPPR has been one of the main proponents of this point of view. [Click here and here]

This is really about different ways of framing the issues around global warming and climate change. What’s framing? Framing is really about giving people a way to think about political issues, usually with a model or structure or question. (For more details, see here, here and here).

I am still not convinced that “crisis” coverage, or a “Pandora’s Box” frame have, in themselves, pushed people away from the issue. More to the point --as I remain open to persuasion – far too little research has been done about how the British public perceives climate change: which frames they use and how their views are shaped. More people need to be engaged, peoples’ understanding deepened if we are to see real progress.

Monbiot says that a new “crisis” terminology is needed. I agree. But we must also attract new audiences make the issue seem more relevant to people. We need new and different frames, including some that connect “climate change” to problems that people already know and see as important. The concerns of both George Monbiot and those who worry about “climate porn” should be met.

Here’s one suggestion from Matt Nisbett:

“The public health frame stresses climate change’s potential to increase the incidence of infectious diseases, asthma, allergies, heat stroke, and other salient health problems, especially among the most vulnerable populations: the elderly and children.”

Sure enough, a new report warning that climate change is the biggest threat to the global health of the 21st century has been picked up in today’s Guardian.

Now, for the next challenge: applying the public health frame as an issue for the UK and people in their local communities. [UPDATE: From Comment is Free – The NHS must wake up to climate change]


neil craig said...

It should be obvious that the reason it has been rebranded as "climate change" rather than "catastrophic global warming" is because the latter is daily exposed as a pack of lies.

Only wholly corrupt or clinicly insane eco-fascists still claim that temperatures & sea levels are rising. My guess is that any member of a genocidal racist party who can claim to be a "liberal" is both.

Dan Pangburn said...

As experienced during the Maunder Minimum, the observation that there are few sunspots is associated with cold (see e.g. Fig. 2 at ). This indicates a connection between sunspot count and energy reaching earth’s surface.

It is revealing to plot against time the integral of the sunspot data reduced by a factor times the fourth power of the average global temperature. This results in a graph with amplitude proportional to energy change and therefore an expected influence on average global temperature change. Adjust the factor so that the first part of the curve is fairly level. This graph shows a substantial energy gain starting in about 1945. This corroborates the observation of a Solar Grand Maximum that went on for about 70 years and appears to have ended a few years ago.

Now, look at the graph of average global temperature such as the NOAA data available at . Notice the approximate 30 year up-trends and down-trends that have been associated with the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO). Note that from about 1945 until about 1975 the PDO down trend must have been a stronger forcing than the gain from sunspots since the temperature trend was down. After 1975 the PDO uptrend combined with the increased solar activity to produce the gain in average global temperature observed late in the 20th century.

The sun has gone quiet and the PDO is in its downtrend. The PDO downtrend combined with the quiet sun is going to result in a continuation of the planet cooling trend. The sun has not been this quiet this long since 1913. Clouds are parameterized in the AOGCMs, are recognized as being very significant and are a recognized weakness in the analysis. Sunspot changes appear to be a catalyst for cloud changes and therefore have much greater influence than just Total Solar Irradiation.

The Climate Science Community is, for the most part, unaware of the science (it’s not in their curriculum) that proves that added atmospheric carbon dioxide has no significant influence on average global temperature and therefore earth’s climate. See my pdf linked from for the proof and to identify the missing science. Or email