Kassidy Wright, USM Eco-Rep
Some of us are familiar with the word framing. Not to be confused with the use of the word that correlates to pictures or art, but the use of language. Language is arguably one of the most powerful tools we utilize every day. Through it, we have created the foundation of communication and understanding; constantly absorbing and reiterating information.
Framing is a strategic communication method used to focus observers on a particular piece of evidence, thought, belief, reason, or decision. By this principle, some argue that unframed information does not exist. Meaning, we have all been exposed to, or influenced by this technique, even subconsciously.
The subject of environmental communication analyzes this method. Environmental communication is the study and practice of the ways the public, institutions, societies, and cultures craft, distribute, receive, understand, and use messages about the environment and human interactions with the environment. It aims to understand how framing affects the public’s knowledge about various environmental problems and information, and how the public believes and perceives environmental risks. Analyzing how these subjects are framed in regard to media and public outreach is essential to studying the social and political development and outcomes of environmental debates and controversies as they circulate through media coverage and public discourse. Famous examples of framing are extremely prevalent on a national and local level during elections surrounding new policies, laws, and especially during presidential elections.
Framing is designed to target emotional connections and regions of the brain. Without emotion, we would lack morality in what we believe to be wrong or right. Without emotion, rational decisions are not easily made. Taking what we know about framing and emotional responses, we can begin to involve environmental communication. It’s not uncommon for photos and graphics to be used in framing. Visuals have proven to be persuasive, especially from an environmental standpoint. For example, instead of broadly talking about climate change, one might present a photo of a polar bear, helplessly floating on a small ice sheet, in a large, empty sea. This use of media is an example of how framing triggers an emotional response among an audience, aiming to highlight a more specific, severe symptom of climate change.
But why does it matter how the environment and its current problems are framed? One of the largest focuses, is politics. We use political systems to create new policies and laws that are aimed to support and progress our society, and address the issues that pose threats to us. With environmental problems, frames presented by political parties and the media can steer a population to possess differing opinions about how severe environmental threats are to us. Thus, swaying how we vote for candidates and new policies at the national and local level.
What can we do to become more aware of frames as citizens and voters? When reading articles, viewing media, or political photographs and documents, we can ask the following questions: Who is delivering this message? What is their stance on this issue? Are they supportive, or unsupportive? Who are their sponsors? What is the viewing audience that is mostly likely being targeted? What emotional response is trying to be signaled?
We can also dig deeper, taking it upon ourselves to collect data and information from multiple sides (environmental, political, etc.) of an issue. We can examine the language and tone used. This takes practice, but with time, it may become easier to answer these questions with any media or article that we obtain. These steps can build on our analytical skills, and perhaps create a population of more involved citizens and voters.