Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Climate security

Language matters in politics. It turns out that not everyone, in fact not anyone, is a wholly rational evaluator of things on their merits alone. Presentation is important.

Calling inheritance tax ‘death tax’ makes it sound nastier; calling employment rights ‘red tape’ makes them seem a pointless nuisance; calling inept spasming in the face of a world you don’t understand ‘the war on terror’ makes it sound tough, brave and noble; and calling ID cards ‘liberty badges’ would make everybody want one.

The right is generally much better at framing debates this way than the left. I don’t know why that should be.

So I was interested to see the assessment from the US National Intelligence Council on the security implications of climate change.

Americans are (partly unfairly) notorious for not caring much about ‘a bunch of tree-hugging hippy crap’, so different ways of bringing home the range and severity of risks from climate change could help to motivate a political shift as much as any number of Al Gore slideshows.

Post-9/11 (yes, I’ve checked the calendar, and we are still post-9/11), anything with security implications gets treated a lot more seriously. George Bush has regularly promoted tax cuts for the rich as necessary for America’s ‘economic security’. Nice trick.

So how about a shift in green politics to talking about ‘climate security’? Then opponents of restricting greenhouse emissions would be ‘soft on climate security’ or ‘taking risks with America’s climate security’ and so on. It seems to be happening already, as I’m not the first person to have thought of this phrase: Google reckons I’m about the 245,000th.

1 comment:

Cassilis said...

Highly recommend the George Lakoff book 'Don't think of an elephant' - a US Democrat writing about 'framing debates' and why the left need to learn the right's superior skills in that field.

It's something Blair did intuitively and it paid dividends for him electorally - Brown really struggles on the same front. 'Difficult long-term decisions' is an awful phrase (however true) and grates every time he uses it. The public here - "I'm shafting you now but..."

Cameron doesn't quite have Blair's gift for it but he's far superior to Brown - "sharing the proceeds of growth" SOUNDS eminently sensible and fair whatever the policy reality of doing it.