Chelsea Green Publishing

Chelsea Green Blog

George Lakoff: How We Talk About the Environment Is Crucial to How We’ll Save It

Framing isn’t about selling the environment like you’re trying to sell toothpaste, says George Lakoff, an expert in cognitive science and linguistics, and the author of the New York Times bestseller Don’t Think of an Elephant: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate. It’s about activating the values that already exist in the minds of Progressives and Conservatives alike. It’s about using language to effectively communicate the truth and offer meaningful solutions.

EcoAmerica is soon to make public a report on the framing of the environment called “Climate and Energy Truths: Our Common Future.” The New York Times, on May 1, 2009, ran a front-page story on the report by John M. Broder called “Seeking to save the Planet, with a Thesaurus.” It amounted to a belittlement of the report.

Broder quoted Drexel University Professor Robert J. Brulle as saying that “ecoAmerica’s campaign was a mirror image of what industry and political conservatives were doing. ‘The form is the same; the message is just flipped,’ he said. ‘You want to sell toothpaste, we’ll sell it. You want to sell global warming, we’ll sell that. It’s the use of advertising techniques to manipulate public opinion.'”

The story missed most of the main issues, but at least it was on the front page. Broder, a fine environmental policy reporter, did his best with a very limited understanding of framing. I am glad that Broder and the Times saw that the issue is significant enough for the front page.

This is an attempt to make better sense of that story.

Framing is Understanding

How the environment is understood by the American public is crucial: it vastly affects the future of our earth and every living being on it.

The technical term for understanding within the cognitive sciences is “framing.” We think, mostly unconsciously, in terms of systems of structures called “frames.” Each frame is a neural circuit, physically in our brains. We use our systems of frame-circuitry to understand everything, and we reason using frame-internal logics. Frame systems are organized in terms of values, and how we reason reflects our values, and our values determine our sense of identity. In short, framing is a big-deal.

All of our language is defined in terms of our frame-circuitry. Words activate that circuitry, and the more we hear the words, the stronger their frames get. But if our language does not fit our frame circuitry, it will not be understood, or will be misunderstood.

That is why it matters how we talk about our environment.

But the frame circuitry in our brains doesn’t change overnight. Just using the language of scientific facts and figures does not mean that the significance — especially the moral significance — of those facts and figures will be understood. That moral significance can only be communicated honestly and effectively using the language of value-based frames, preferably frames already there in the minds of the public.

What makes this hard is that there are two competing valued-based systems of frames operating in our politics, one progressive and one conservative. Parts of the conservative framing system is actually at odds with a realistic understanding of the environmental problems facing us.

For many years, the powerful conservative Republican messaging system in the country has communicated a greatly misleading picture to the public, successfully getting their frame-circuits established in the brains of a large proportion of the public. Meanwhile, the environmental movement and the Democrats have done a less-than-sterling job of communicating the reality of what we all face.

Luckily, a large proportion of the public has versions of both conservative and progressive value-systems in their brains, applying to different issues. Many Americans are conservative on some issues and progressive on others. It would be nice if political value systems were not involved here, but they are. The good news is that it may be possible to activate a realistic view of our situation by using the fact that many swing voters and even many Republicans are partially progressive, from the perspective of the value-systems already in place in their brains. If we are to talk about the environment effectively, we need to make use of this neural fact to bring about a true understanding of our situation through honest communication.

Read the whole article here.

 

Related Articles:


The Future Is Hopeless, So Give it Your All

The never-ending national election in the United States, the “surprise” pro-Brexit vote in the United Kingdom, climate change … the list goes on and on about how easy it can be to lose hope in the future.Like many of life’s frustrations, or overwhelmingly large topics, most people in our society find themselves somewhere on the […] Read More

How Carbon Farming Can Save the Planet

Carbon farming alone is not enough to avoid catastrophic climate change, but coupled with new economic priorities, a massive switch to clean energy, and big changes to much of the rest of the way our societies work, it offers a pathway out of destruction and a route to hope.Along the way carbon farming can also […] Read More

Welcome to the Lyme Wars

Lyme disease infects a minimum of 300,000 people per year in the United States and millions more throughout the rest of the world. Symptoms run from mild lethargy to severe arthritis to heart disease to incapacitating mental dysfunction. Although tests have improved over the past decade, they are still not completely reliable, and antibiotics are […] Read More

Look Under Your Feet for Global Soil-utions

For several years, Chelsea Green has been publishing books that look under our feet for solutions to some of the most vexing problems facing the planet – hunger, drought, degraded farmland and grasslands, damaged waterways, and much more. Those books focus on (mostly) one thing: Soil.  In 2016, we’ve published two more important books that […] Read More

Feed Bees Biodynamically with Bee Tea

In this excerpt from An Unlikely Vineyard, Deirdre Heekin offers tips on how to biodynamically care for bees – just as they do everything else on the farm. Here, she provides a recipe for “bee tea” which is useful when feeding bees between winter and spring, when a hive has been robbed, or when starting […] Read More
Follow us
Get every new post delivered to your inbox
Join millions of other followers
Powered By WPFruits.com