Framing Climate Change

From Frank Luntz, formerly the evil twin to linguist George Lakoff, comes the following advice on how to Frame the Climate Change discussion for people pushing for action on the climate crisis. He offered a chart of “words to use and words to lose” for greater impact based on what he’s learned from focus groups:

“USE: Cleaner, safer, healthier. LOSE: Sustainable/sustainability.
USE: Solving climate change. LOSE: Ending global warming.
USE: Principles and priorities. LOSE: Values.
USE: Reliable technology/energy. LOSE: Ground-breaking/State of the art.
USE: New careers. LOSE: New jobs.
USE: Peace of mind. LOSE: Security.
USE: Consequences. LOSE: Threats/Problems.
USE: Working together. LOSE: One world.

Activists often point out that combating the climate crisis will create jobs, but Luntz said they should talk in terms of “careers” instead. “A job is something that you can’t wait to get out of. A career is something that you embrace.”

Another suggestion: Drop “sustainability,” because it rings of the “status quo,” he explained. “What American people really want is something that is cleaner, safer, healthier. What they’re asking for is improvement, not the status quo.”

It’s also important to frame climate action as a “no-regrets strategy,” Luntz said. Legislation would lead to cleaner air, cleaner water, less dependence on foreign fuels, enhanced national security, and more innovation in our economy. “And that’s if the scientists are wrong,” he said. “If the scientists are right, we get all of those things and begin to solve what could be the most catastrophic environmental problem that any of us have ever faced … That’s why it’s the right thing to do.”

Stay away from the complicated science of climate change and personalize the message instead, Luntz advised. “How many of you know of someone who either lost a house because of a hurricane, a tornado, a forest fire?” he turned to ask the audience at the hearing. Many raised their hands.

“If I can give you a solution that will prevent most of that from happening, would you invest in it? … What would you be willing to pay to get that home back, to get that opportunity back, to get that life back? The answer for most people is everything.””

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