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2.4.1 Changing Frames Is Contested

All frames are political. Antonio Gramsci, Italian political theorist and linguist, expanded on how Marxist thinkers of the twentieth century discussed hegemony. He described how the ruling elite use the institutions of civil society (e.g., church, media, schools) to disseminate messages that contend the ruling elite's interests and the interests of the masses are the same. Over time, the interests of the ruling elites become taken for granted as the right and proper course of events. In other words, ideologies develop which play a critical role in establishing and maintaining societal unity. The repetition of ideological language strengthens the circuits for that ideology in a hearer's brain (Lakoff 2010). If repeated often enough that language becomes normally used language which continues to unconsciously activate that ideology in the hearer's brain. The dominant frame regarding the environment has been that it is a resource for short-term private enrichment, that it exists to be used by people, and that we should leave it up to market forces to manage the resources the environment provides for people. These frames have become reified by our institutions, industries, and cultural practices. Once reified, they are difficult to change. Yet they must and are being changed.

2.4.1.1 Efforts to Control the Discussion

Those who control the frames work hard to maintain them. A powerful way to silence a group is to own the language of the debate (Shafer 2006). Although the term sustainable development grew out of ecology, international development, and the environmental movement, as early as 1992, powerful political forces (e.g., the WBCSD) began taking charge of how sustainable development was conceptualized and discussed.

In the face of ecological crises, defenders of the status quo often try to discredit or marginalize threats posed by ecological issues. They engage in systematically distorted communication designed to marginalize the perceived severity of global warming's threat so as to protect traditional or large economic interests. Systematically distorted communication refers to the instrumental manipulation of language by powerful interests which corrupts our everyday networks of communication practice. The work of the German political philosopher, Ju¨rgen Habermas, was foundational to our understanding of how systemically distorted communication occurs at the societal level. A number of strategies associated with systematically distorted communication include universalization (treating sectional interests as universal); disqualification (treating a subject or source as trivial), and neutralization (treating topics as if they have no political significance) (Ganesh 2009). There is a long and well-documented history of business interests and their allies in many countries who seek to create scientific uncertainty about the existence and causes of global warming.

Climate change deniers and those who seek to limit or block environmental regulations utilize a variety of other communication and legal strategies including intentionally disseminating disinformation, using intimidation and threats, supporting public and media outreach from conservative think tanks, funding sympathetic political candidates and scientists, legally challenging the right of citizens to speak for the environment (i.e., the right of standing), weakening environmental regulations, bringing strategic litigation against public participation (SLAPP) lawsuits, using fear appeals (e.g., jobs versus the environment, government takeover of individual liberties) to mobilize citizens, and contesting the credibility of scientists (Cox 2013). One of my interviewees, Keegan Eisenstadt, CEO and owner of ClearSky Climate Solutions, discussed how scientists face:

Special interests that have hired very good communicators. Whether or not they talk about the truth or fact, is irrespective of the fact that they communicate well. And their communication is about fear, and the fear is the pocketbook of the family, it is not about future hypothetical grandchildren.

A clear effort to control the language of the debate is being played out today as towns and cities consider membership in groups such as ICLEI. In 2012 Glenn Beck, a politically conservative television and radio host, published Agenda 21, a ghost-written, dystopian novel based around the UN's Agenda 21. Beck, who appears not to believe climate change is real, sought to discredit Agenda 21, as have other conservative commentators. Ideologically motivated articles are appearing on the Internet about the horrors of Agenda 21 and ICLEI. In light of the disinformation being circulated, some citizens are opposing anything connected to Agenda 21. In response, ICLEI placed information on their website “Setting the Record Straight about ICLEI” and took the open list of ICLEI members off the site. Some cities are not renewing their membership in an organization designed to help them plan for future resource access by their residents and how to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.

The battle for control is ongoing. NRDC Senior Scientist Allen Hershkowitz said:

I really do think that the work we have done with sports has played a very influential role in helping instigate a shift. The deniers of climate change can attack the National Academies of Science or the Environmental Protection Agency, but they can't attack the NFL, Major League Baseball, and the National Hockey League. And NASCAR, we have a partnership with NASCAR on energy efficiency and climate change issues. You can't get more mainstream than NASCAR.

 
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