News - January 11, 2010

Adaptation takes over from greenhouse effect

Greenhouse effect and carbon dioxide emission are out; climate change is in. To get the media interested in a climate project, make sure it has something to do with adaptation.

This view is offered by Gerard Breeman and his colleagues from the Public Administration and Policy Group in the latest issue of 'Bestuurskunde'. Climate adaptation - adapting to the changing climate - is a surefire press attention grabber. It is direct, dramatic, close-up and concrete. It is in fact all that the more technical concepts of CO2-emission and greenhouse effect are not.
Al Gore
All things are subjected to evolution; the climate issue is no exception. What once took the media by storm under the term  'greenhouse effect' is now called climate change. A study of the media would support this view. Breeman has been occupied for several years with research into the 'politics of attention'. Just keep feeding articles to the press. Breeman himself uses the NRC for this purpose.
Attention for the environment rises and falls, with the undisputed climax in 2007 when An inconvenient truth by Al Gore appeared. That enabled existing theories to be bounced off and incorporated into political and public agendas. Attention catching incidents played major roles in the process.
What is more interesting is the packaging of the problem of the changing climate. What was initially known as the 'greenhouse effect' has now become 'climate change'. According to Breeman, this is not just a play on words, old wine in new bottles.  This has to do with 'framing': the way in which a subject is (intentionally) presented. Technical and abstract concepts such as the greenhouse effect and CO2-emission are replaced by the much broader and especially more dramatic concept of climate change. Assigned under this simple umbrella are the numerous existing environmental problems in the areas of water, air and soil.
The latest shift is towards increasing media attention for climate adaptation. This focuses on making ecosystems and society climate-proof. Adaptation is positioned more or less against mitigation, the reduction of CO2 emission. The cause of the problem leaves the centre stage, and makes way for the consequences. Adaptation results in local and tangible counter measures. And that, according to Breeman, 'sells' better than research into abstract emission issues.