George Lakoff frames eco-talk

May 19, 2009 | By | Reply More

Linguist George Lakoff, who I have often discussed at this website (see here and here), has spent a lot of time discussing the power of framing.  In fact, the way we frame serve as tectonic plates of sorts underneath all the chatter.   Exposing the frames can clear up misunderstandings.  Being careful of how one frames one’s arguments can make for a much more effective message.

Turning to environmental issues, Lakoff suggests that we need to consciously note that certain types of frames will enhance the message.  What are those frames?  Here’s Lakoff’s list, from a long post at Huffpo:

First, the public’s very understanding of nature has to change. We are part of nature; nature is not separate from us. Nature nurtures us. The destructive exploitation of nature is evil. What is good is the use of nature that doesn’t use up nature.

Second, the economic and ecological meltdowns have the same cause: the unregulated free market and the idea that greed is good and that the natural world is a resource for short-term private enrichment. The result has been deadly, toxic assets and a toxic atmosphere.

Third, the global economy and ecology are both systems. Global causes are systemic, not local. Global risk is systemic, not local. The localization of causation and risk is what has brought about our twin disasters. We have to think in global, system terms and we don’t do so naturally. That is why a massive communications effort is needed.

Fourth, the Right’s economic arguments need to be countered. Is it too expensive to save the earth? How could it be? If the earth goes, business goes.

Fifth, we are the polar bears. Human existence is threatened, and the existence of most living beings on earth.

Sixth, we own the air jointly and we can’t transfer ownership. Polluting corporations are dumping pollution into our air. They need to gradually be made to stop, two-percent less a year for 40 years: that is what a “cap” on carbon dioxide pollution is about. And meanwhile the polluters should pay us dumping fees to offset the cost of fuel increases and pay for the development of better fuels.

Image by amerune at Flickr (creative commons)

Image by amerune at Flickr (creative commons)

Seventh, even the most successful emissions cap would only take us halfway. Business needs to do its part to take us the rest of the way. Large corporations need to face up to reality and join in the effort.

Finally, for those in the business world: Corporate interests are constantly putting forth arguments based on cost-benefit analysis. But the very mathematics of cost-benefit analysis is anti-ecological; the equations themselves are destructive of the earth . . . [I]n a fairly short time, any monetary benefits compared to costs will tend to zero. That says there are no long-term benefits to saving the earth!

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Category: Communication, Environment, global warming, Language

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

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