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Despite overwhelming scientific consensus, millions of Americans fail to view climate change as a pressing threat. How can we address this disconnect between science and public opinion? In the present study, we investigated the role of metaphorical framing in shaping attitudes toward climate change. Participants read a brief article that metaphorically described US efforts to reduce carbon emissions as a war or race against climate change, or non-metaphorically described it as the issue of climate change. We further manipulated whether these emission-reduction goals emphasized the relatively near or distant future. We found that, compared to the race frame, the war metaphor made people perceive more urgency and risk surrounding climate change and express a greater willingness to increase conservation behavior, irrespective of the time horizon. Those who read the non-metaphorical report tended to respond in between these two extremes. We discuss the implications of these findings for climate communications.
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Environmental Communication
ISSN: 1752-4032 (Print) 1752-4040 (Online) Journal homepage: http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/renc20
Metaphors for the War (or Race) against Climate
Change
Stephen J. Flusberg, Teenie Matlock & Paul H. Thibodeau
To cite this article: Stephen J. Flusberg, Teenie Matlock & Paul H. Thibodeau (2017) Metaphors
for the War (or Race) against Climate Change, Environmental Communication, 11:6, 769-783, DOI:
10.1080/17524032.2017.1289111
To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/17524032.2017.1289111
Published online: 02 Mar 2017.
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RESEARCH ARTICLE
Metaphors for the War (or Race) against Climate Change
Stephen J. Flusberg
a
*, Teenie Matlock
b
*and Paul H. Thibodeau
c
*
a
Department of Psychology, Purchase College, State University of New York, Purchase, NY, USA;
b
Cognitive &
Information Sciences Program and Center for Climate Communication, University of California, Merced, Merced, CA,
USA;
c
Department of Psychology, Oberlin College, Oberlin, OH, USA
ABSTRACT
Despite overwhelming scientific consensus, millions of Americans fail to
view climate change as a pressing threat. How can we address this
disconnect between science and public opinion? In the present study,
we investigated the role of metaphorical framing in shaping attitudes
toward climate change. Participants read a brief article that
metaphorically described US efforts to reduce carbon emissions as a war
or race against climate change, or non-metaphorically described it as the
issue of climate change. We further manipulated whether these
emission-reduction goals emphasized the relatively near or distant
future. We found that, compared to the race frame, the war metaphor
made people perceive more urgency and risk surrounding climate
change and express a greater willingness to increase conservation
behavior, irrespective of the time horizon. Those who read the non-
metaphorical report tended to respond in between these two extremes.
We discuss the implications of these findings for climate communications.
ARTICLE HISTORY
Received 2 August 2016
Accepted 25 December 2016
KEYWORDS
Climate change; framing;
metaphor; reasoning;
communications
Introduction
In December 2015, 195 countries signed a landmark agreement at the UN Climate Change Confer-
ence in Paris, France, aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions worldwide and limiting the effects
of global warming. Though some critics have argued that this pact does not go far enough to address
the ecological dangers we are facing, most scientists, policymakers, and members of the international
media agree that this represents a substantial and necessary step toward tackling anthropogenic cli-
mate change. For the first time, nearly every nation on earth is pledging to address what an over-
whelming majority of scientists view as an undeniable fact: Climate change is real, and caused in
no small part by human activity (Cook et al., 2016).
Despite this momentous transnational achievement, Americans remain more divided than ever
on the issue. According to 2014 polling data (Saad, 2014b), 25% of Americans were still highly skep-
tical of climate change, a more than 100% increase in global warming skeptics from 2001. Mean-
while, the number of concerned believerswas down to 36% in 2014, from a high of 49% in
2001. In that same time period, the publics confidence in their own beliefs has increased: The per-
centage of people claiming to understand the issue of global warming very wellhas risen from 11%
in 1992 to 33% in 2014 (Saad, 2014a). This makes it especially alarming that one-third of Americans
polled in 2015 claimed that the effects of global warming will never occur or will only affect future
generations (Saad, 2015). More recent data suggest that only half of the population believes that
© 2017 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group
CONTACT Stephen J. Flusberg stephen.flusberg@purchase.edu
*
These authors contributed equally to this work.
ENVIRONMENTAL COMMUNICATION, 2017
VOL. 11, NO. 6, 769783
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global warming is mostly human caused and only 20% say they are very worriedabout the issue
(Leiserowitz, Maibach, Roser-Renouf, Feinberg, & Rosenthal, 2016).
This disconnect between public opinion and scientific consensus is troubling, and illustrates in
part the power that special interest groups and the media have in shaping public opinion. Consider,
for example, the disproportionate amount of attention paid to the Climategatescandal of 2009,
where the hacked emails of climate scientists at the University of East Anglia were released online,
purporting to show the willful manipulation of global warming data. Though the scientific commu-
nity was quick to point out the irrefutable evidence for anthropogenic climate change in the wake of
this controversy, coverage of this event may have been responsible for a sharp spike in global warm-
ing skepticism the following year (Leiserowitz, Maibach, Roser-Renouf, Smith, & Dawson, 2013;
Saad, 2014b).
Behavioral research may help address the widespread apathy toward climate change by illuminat-
ing when, how, and why framing techniques influence how people think and reason about environ-
mental issues. For example, some work has shown that conservatives are more likely to express pro-
environmental attitudes when the issue is framed in terms of the moral concern of purity (Feinberg
& Willer, 2013), and that Independents and Republicans are just as likely to support a carbon tax as
Democrats when it is described as an offsetcost, rather than a tax(Hardisty, Johnson, & Weber,
2010). Other research has found that reading about a climate change impact relevant to ones local
area can also increase climate change engagement (Scannell & Gifford, 2013). On the other hand, a
recent study concluded that simple framing techniques might not be sufficient to boost public sup-
port for certain climate policies (Bernauer & McGrath, 2016).
In the current study, we investigate how peoples attitudes toward climate change can be changed
with metaphor. Linguists, psychologists, philosophers, and communications researchers have long
argued that metaphor can be a powerful tool for influencing how people think and feel about com-
plex social issues (Lakoff, 2008; Sopory & Dillard, 2002; Thibodeau & Boroditsky, 2011,2013.
Metaphors are ubiquitous in natural language and sub-serve a variety of cognitive, affective, and
social functions in communication: They can be used to efficiently represent and communicate
about abstract topics, establish common ground between speakers, and allow people to leverage
their structured knowledge of a source domain to organize how they understand and reason
about the target domain in question (Gibbs, 1994; Lakoff & Johnson, 1980; Thibodeau & Boroditsky,
2013; Thibodeau, Crow, & Flusberg, 2016).
Recent studies have found that metaphors can subtly shape how people think about a variety of
important domains. For example, metaphorically describing crime as a beast that preys on a city leads
people to support more enforcement-based solutions to the crime problem (analogous to how people
think about addressing a literal beast problem) compared with describing the same issue as a virus
that infects a city (Thibodeau & Boroditsky, 2011,2013). Similarly, thinking about a monster wildfire
that eats up land and devours homes leads to a greater willingness to evacuate than does a major wild-
fire that burns land and homes (Matlock, Gann, Bergmann, & Coe, 2015). These findings suggest
that metaphors are useful because they activate conceptual schemas (e.g. for dealing with a beast
on the loose) that can be used to reason about a target domain (e.g. for dealing with criminals on
the loose), and because they can trigger emotional responses that are known to affect reasoning
about risks (e.g. feelings of fear or anxiety in response to a monster; see Loewenstein & Lerner,
2003; Slovic, Peters, Finucane, & MacGregor, 2005; Thibodeau et al., in press).
In recent years, climate scientists and communications scholars have noted the need to analyse
metaphors that are used to describe how humans interact with the environment (e.g. Larson,
2011; Nerlich, Koteyko, & Brown, 2010; Nisbet, 2009; Princen, 2010; Raymond et al., 2013).
For instance, Shaw and Nerlich (2015) point out that public discourse about climate change is
often framed in economic, cost-benefit, terms, where the ecosystem servicemetaphor plays
an important cognitive function. Grounding discussions of climate policy in terms of monetary
value provides a simple mental model for thinking about the environment and evaluating policy
interventions. However, this metaphor may be overly restrictive and lead people to assume that
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there is a straightforward trade-off between sustainable environmental policies and economic
growth.
Research on metaphors in environmental language is useful and informative, but it is also impor-
tant to examine whether and how they can affect peoples attitudes toward climate change as well as
their willingness to change their own behavior to mitigate the risks associated with global warming.
Though research on this topic is limited, one recent study found that, compared to plain text and pie
charts, explicit comparisons to other domains (If 97% of doctors concluded that your child is sick,
would you believe them?) were not as effective at communicating the scientific consensus on the rea-
lity of climate change (van der Linden, Leiserowitz, Feinberg, & Maibach, 2014). This suggests that
metaphorical comparisons may not be all that useful in climate communications. However, because
so much uncertainty surrounds the topic of climate changean enormously complex phenomenon
that unfolds in varied and dynamic ways over different regions and timescalesmessaging cam-
paigns may choose to target any number of different attitudes, beliefs, or behaviors beyond basic
acceptance of the scientific consensus. The current study therefore represents an important step
toward understanding the role of metaphor in climate communications. We focus on how metaphor
framing might affect the following:
(1) Goals: Do people believe that government efforts to reduce the national carbon footprint are
realistic and achievable?
(2) Urgency and Risk: To what extent do people feel a sense of urgency and perceive the risks sur-
rounding the issue of climate change?
(3) Behavior change: Are people willing to modify their own behavior and increase their personal
conservation efforts?
To address these questions, we designed an experiment to contrast the effects of three different
ways of talking about climate change: (1) a metaphorical war against climate change, (2) a metapho-
rical race against climate change, and (3) a non-metaphorical framing about the issue of climate
change.
Our initial hypotheses focused on the war frame, which is extremely common in public discourse
in a variety of domains (e.g. the war on terror, the war on crime, the war on drugs, the war on pov-
erty, the war on cancer, the war on Christmas), to the extent that approximately 17% of articles in
Time magazine between 1981 and 2000 contained a war metaphor (Karlberg & Buell, 2005). The war
frame has also received some attention in the experimental literature (albeit for other topics; e.g. can-
cersee Hauser & Schwarz, 2015), which offers preliminary evidence for the power of the metaphor
to shape attitudes and behavior (see also Elwood, 1995). A recent discourse analysis found that war
metaphors are frequently used in the British Guardian Online newspaper to talk about climate
change politics as well as communicate the urgent need to act on the issue (Atanasova & Koteyko,
2015a). As researchers made clear in a popular science write-up of this work (Atanasova & Koteyko,
2015b), war metaphors may help unite people on an issue by highlighting the seriousness of a pro-
blem and the importance of addressing it.
One possibility, therefore, is that by describing US efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as a
war that must be fought, participants in our study would be led to feel an additional sense of urgency
and risk surrounding the issue and would be further motivated to address it by modifying their own
conservation behavior. On the other hand, Atanasova and Koteyko (2015b) point out that in the con-
text of climate change, war metaphors might actually backfire and fail to increase feelings of urgency,
as research has found fear to be largely ineffective at motivating engagement with social issues such
as global warming (ONeill & Nicholson-Cole, 2009). Our study was designed in part to test the effi-
cacy of the war metaphor in discussing climate change and to help adjudicate between these com-
peting predictions.
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Study overview
Three samples of data were collected to address the research questions enumerated above: the first, in
January of 2016 (N= 1000), the second, in March of 2016 (N= 800), and the third, in October of
2016 (N= 1200). The methods and results are largely consistent in the three datasets, although
there are several notable differences that we discuss. In presenting the methods and findings, we
have pooled the data from the three samples to present the clearest pattern of results, focusing on
findings that are reliable and robust in all three samples.
In the experiment, participants read a fictional newspaper article about climate change and then
responded to a series of follow-up questions. Two features of the article were manipulated: first, the
article identified a specific time horizon as a target for achieving a reduction in greenhouse gasses,
which was situated in the relatively near (2025) or distant future (2115). This manipulation was
included for all three samples.
Second, the article framed the effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in one of three ways: two
of which were metaphorical, as a war or race against climate change, and one of which was not
metaphorical, as the issue of climate change (see Figure 1). In the first and third samples, all
three of these conditions were included; in the second sample, only the two metaphoric frames
were included in order to more carefully compare the effects of metaphorically framing a campaign
to reduce climate change. Non-metaphorical stimuli may not represent the ideal control condition
in studies designed to test how metaphors affect the way people think, given that they differ from
metaphorical stimuli in a variety of ways other than simply lacking a figurative component (e.g.
vividness, general arousal, reader engagement; for discussion and empirical assessment of this
Figure 1. Brief paragraph stimuli used in the experiment. All participants read the preamble at the top, followed by one of the 6
paragraphs below (3 frames × 2 time horizons).
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issue, see Thibodeau & Boroditsky, 2015). However, a condition that frames the issue non-meta-
phorically may provide a useful point of comparison for the two metaphorical treatment conditions
in this case, given the practical applications of the current work (we elaborate on these issues in the
General discussion).
After reading the fictional newspaper article, participants answered a series of follow-up ques-
tions. All three samples were asked (a) whether they thought the US would be able to achieve the
emissions reduction goal, (b) to rate the urgency of the challenge, and (c) about their view of the
risk that climate change posed. The second and third samples were also asked (d) a set of questions
about their willingness to change their behavior to reduce their own carbon footprint.
Methods
Participants
A total of 3000 participants were recruited and paid through Amazons Mechanical Turk, an online
crowdsourcing platform that is popular with social scientists. Mechanical Turk has been shown to
yield high-quality data and is more representative than other commonly used convenience samples
(Berinsky, Huber, & Lenz, 2012; Buhrmester, Kwang, & Gosling, 2011; but see Paolacci & Chandler,
2014, for discussion of trade-offs associated with social science research with this population of par-
ticipants). We restricted our sample to people living in the US who had a good performance rating
(>90%) on previous Turk tasks. Not analysed were data from participants who failed to complete the
study or from participants who did not seem to read the article (i.e. who advanced past this screen in
less than 2 seconds). In addition, a small number of participants in Sample 1 (or 2) submitted data
for Sample 2 (or 3); data from these participants were also excluded. Table 1 shows the demographic
information for the three samples.
The samples did not differ in age, education, political affiliation, political ideology, racial identity,
or belief in global warming. They did, however, show a difference by gender, although, critically, the
different conditions within each of the samples were balanced for gender (i.e. had a similar pro-
portion of males and females in each condition), as well as for the other demographic variables.
Nevertheless, to control for this difference across the samples, and to account for potential differ-
ences in the salience of climate change as a function of when people participated in the study, we
controlled for sample in our analyses, as discussed below.
Materials and procedure
Stimuli. Participants first read a brief fictional newspaper article that situated US efforts to reduce
greenhouse gas emissions metaphorically as The War Against Climate Changeor as The Race
Against Climate Change,or non-metaphorically as The Issue of Climate Change(see Figure 1).
Participants in Samples 1 and 3 were randomly assigned to one of these three frames; Participants in
Sample 2 were randomly assigned to one of the two metaphoric frames. The frame was presented as
the title of the article and was extended throughout the description. For instance, in the war
Table 1. Demographic information of samples.
Sample 1 Sample 2 Sample 3
NAnalysed 979 759 1124
Age 35.9 (11.3) 35.3 (11.4) 34.7 (10.9)
Gender: Male*** 47% 52% 37%
Education: Completed some college 87% 88% 88%
Political Affiliation: Democrat, Republican 40%, 20% 40%, 23% 37%, 23%
Political conservativeness 40.8 (27.3) 43.2 (28.7) 43.1 (26.8)
Race: White 83% 83% 81%
Belief in global warming 3.98 (0.88) 3.97 (0.92) 3.94 (0.89)
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condition, participants read statements about how the US was seeking to combatexcessive energy
use and killproblems related to air pollution. In the race condition, participants read statements
about how the US was seeking to go afterexcessive energy use and surge aheadon problems
related to air pollution. In the (non-metaphorical) issue frame condition, participants read about
how the US was seeking to addressexcessive energy use and resolveproblems related to air pol-
lution. Aside from metaphorical content, the linguistic forms used in the articles were identical,
including the same sentence structure, for instance, This is a war we cant afford to lose!and
This is a race we cant afford to lose!
Both metaphorical frames are common in climate change discourse, as seen in recent print media
headlinesfor instance, in The New York Times,We dont need a waron climate change, we need
a revolution(Godoy & Jaffe, 2016), and in Forbes magazine, In race against climate change, inno-
vations to this ingredient could determine the future of brewing(Nurin, 2016). Such framing is ubi-
quitous in discussion of societal issues, including political campaigns (see Matlock, 2012, for a
discussion of race metaphors in particular).
In addition to manipulating the frame, the article either situated emission-reduction goals in the
relatively near (2025) or distant (2115) future (e.g. The US has approved dozens of projects as part of
an effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by more than 25% by the year 2025/2115). This
manipulation was included for all three samples.
Norming study. To ensure that all six versions of the target article were similarly clear and easy to
read, we conducted a norming study. An additional group of 300 participants was recruited from
Mechanical Turk, and randomly assigned to read one of the six versions of the fictional news article
and to answer five questions about the articlesdifficulty, clarity, complexity, concreteness, and vivid-
ness. These questions, taken from prior work on metaphor framing (Burgers, Konijn, Steen, &
Iepsma, 2015), were asked on a 5-point rating scale that ranged from Strongly Disagree to Strongly
Agree. Data were excluded from participants who did not complete the study or who read the article
in less than two seconds, which left data from 289 participants for analysis.
A series of ANOVAs revealed that the articles did not differ in their comprehensibility (i.e. ratings
of difficulty, clarity, complexity, and vividness; all ps >.09). There was some evidence that the meta-
phoric conditions were perceived as less concrete than the non-metaphoric condition, as would be
expected. However, this effect was only marginally significant and only reliable in the far time hor-
izon (F[2, 283] = 2.90, p= .057). Although one would expect metaphoric descriptions to be seen as
less concrete than non-metaphoric descriptions, the abstract nature of climate change in general, and
the use of highly conventional metaphors in these articles may have led people to think of the con-
ditions as using language that was similarly concrete.
Target questions. After reading the article, participants in the experiment were asked to make a
judgment about the feasibility of the goal described in the article (Will the US achieve its goal of
reducing greenhouse gas emissions by more than 25% by the year 2025/2115?; yes or no), and to
rate their confidence in this judgment (on a 5-point scale that ranged from 1, Not at all confident
to 5, Very confident). There was relatively little variability in participantsconfidence ratings (most
participants, 63%, reported that they were somewhat confidentin their judgment), and this did not
differ significantly by the experimental manipulations. Thus, we do not report further analyses on
this measure in the Results section.
Participants also rated the urgency of the problem (How urgent is it for the US to implement
energy reduction programs right away?) on a 5-point scale that ranged from 1, Not at all urgent
to 5, Very urgent,and reported their perception of the risks posed by climate change (Jones,
Clark, & Tripidaki, 2012). The risk perception measure asks participants to consider 13 potential
consequences of climate change (e.g. soil erosion, drought, international conflict) and to rate their
level of concern for each on a 7-point scale (Cronbachsα= .93).
Participants in Samples and 2 and 3 (but not Sample 1) were then asked six questions about their
willingness to change specific behaviors in order to mitigate the effects of climate change (on a 5-
point scale that ranged from 1, Definitely No,to 5, Definitely Yes):
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(1) Would you be willing to pay a carbon offset cost on future purchases of items derived from fossil
fuels?
(2) Would you be willing to contribute money toward education initiatives designed to teach people
about risks associated with climate change?
(3) Would you be willing to pay more for health initiatives designed to deal with health-related
issues we are now facing due to climate change?
(4) Would you be willing to decrease your use of air conditioning and heating in order to reduce
your carbon footprint?
(5) Would you be willing to decrease your use of goods and services that contribute to greenhouse
gas emissions and pollution?
(6) Would you be willing to decrease your intake of agricultural products that derive from farming
techniques known to contribute to climate change?
We aggregated responses to these six questions into a single measure of willingness to change
behavior (Cronbachsα= .86).
At the end of the survey, participants answered demographics questions about their age, gender,
educational history, political party affiliation (categorically, as Democrat, Independent, Republican,
or Other), and political ideology (on a continuous scale that ranged from 0, Very liberal,to 100,
Very conservative). Of note, recent work has shown that although there tend to be fewer partici-
pants who identify as Republicans than as Democrats or Independents on Mechanical Turk, partici-
pants on the platform usually behave in ways that are representative of their political identity (i.e. the
platform is valid for psychological research on issues that tend to be influenced by political identity;
Clifford, Jewell, & Waggoner, 2015).
Participants were also asked two questions about their belief in global warming by indicating their
agreement with two statements on a 7-point scale (i.e. I believe that burning fossil fuels increases
atmospheric temperature to some measurable degreeand I believe that the burning of fossil
fuels on the scale observed over the last 50 years has increased atmospheric temperature to an
appreciable degree; Cronbachsα= .89; Lewandowsky, Oberauer, & Gignac, 2013). As expected,
people who identified as politically conservative were less likely to report a belief in global warming,
r[2860] = .512, p< .001 (Bernauer, 2013).
As part of a secondary research project, participants in Sample 1 also completed scales that
measured the degree to which people think about the earth as a system (i.e. the Systems Thinking
Scale; Thibodeau, Frantz, & Stroink, 2016), free market ideation (Heath & Gifford, 2006), and the
tendency to endorse conspiracy theories (Lewandowsky et al., 2013). Because responses to these
measures do not bear on our primary research questions, they are not discussed any further.
Analysis
We used logistic regression to analyse participantsjudgment of whether they thought the US would
be able to achieve its climate reduction goal. We used linear models to analyse ratings of urgency, risk
perception, and willingness to change behavior. In all four models, we included categorical predictors
for the two experimental manipulations in order to test for a main effect of the frame and time hor-
izon, as well as to test for an interaction between these factors. We also included a categorical pre-
dictor for the sample (1, 2, or 3) and a continuous predictor for participantsbelief in global warming
as covariates. Participantsbelief in global warming was included as a covariate in the models to (a)
account for the primary source of variance in the dataand, thus, to more clearly detect and quantify
the influence of the experimental manipulationsand (b) test whether the effects of the experimen-
tal manipulations were modulated by participantsprior beliefs about the anthropocentric origins of
climate change.
For the logistic regression, we compared a series of nested models to test the statistical significance
of including the predictor variables. The deviance between the models (i.e. difference in likelihood
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ratios) is reported as an index of model fit: model deviance approximates a χ
2
distribution with the
number of added parameters as its degrees of freedom (Menard, 2002).
For the linear models, we report F-ratios to test for omnibus differencesfor example, to test
whether there are differences by frame (issue, race, war). Then we report standardized coefficients
from the corresponding linear regression model to quantify the size and direction of statistically sig-
nificant effects (Howell, 2012).
The data for these studies are available on the Open Science Framework: osf.io/45rnj.
Results
The results of analyses on the four outcome measures are presented in Table 2, which are described
in detail in the following subsections.
Goal
We first fit a series of logistic regression models to participantsjudgments of whether the US would
achieve the emissions reduction goal. The models revealed a main effect of the time horizon manipu-
lation, χ
2
(1) = 71.70, p< .001, CramersV= .16 (β= .68, SE = .08), and participantsbelief in global
warming, χ
2
(1) = 37.42, p< .001, CramersV= .11 (β= .24, SE = .04). No other main effects or inter-
actions were statistically significant (see Table 2). As shown in Figure 2, participants were more likely
to think the goal would be achieved if the target deadline was 2115 (71%) than 2025 (56%).
Urgency
A linear model was fit to ratings of the urgency of addressing climate change and revealed main
effects of the frame, F[2, 2848] = 3.51, p= .030, η
2
= .002, participantsbelief in global warming, F
[2, 2848] = 1843.17, p< .001, η
2
= . 391, and the sample, F[2, 2848] = 3.80, p= .022, η
2
= .002. No
other main effects or interactions were statistically reliable (see Table 2).
As shown in Figure 3, people thought the problem was the most urgent in all three samples when
the report identified climate change as an enemy in a war. Ratings of urgency in the war condition
were significantly different from ratings of urgency in the race condition, B= .090, SE = .043,
p= .038; ratings of urgency from the issue condition did not differ from the war,B=.049, SE
= .049, p= .314, or race conditions, B= .041, SE = .048, p= .396.
Participants in Sample 3 tended to view the issue as more urgent than participants in Sample 1,
B= .081, SE = .034, p= .017, or Sample 2, B= .807, SE = .039, p= .024; there was no difference
between the ratings of participants in Sample 1 and Sample 2, B= .006, SE = .034, p= .882. This
may reflect the fact that Sample 3 was collected after the hottest summer on record and during a
Table 2. Results of statistical models that included tests of the experimental manipulations (frame and time horizon), participants
belief in global warming, and sample, on the four outcome measures: the goal judgment and assessments of urgency, risk
perception, and willingness to change ones behavior. A χ
2
statistic shown for the analysis of the goal judgment; F-ratios are
shown for the analyses of urgency, risk perception, and willingness to change ones behavior; additional details for each of the
models are provided in the text. Asterisks indicate statistical significance at the *p< .05, **p< .01, and ***p< .001 levels.
Goal Urgency Risk perception Behavior
Frame 2.00 3.51* 5.60** 8.61***
Time horizon 71.70*** 0.61 1.41 0.36
Belief in global warming 37.42*** 1843.17*** 1489.86*** 1113.28***
Sample 1.04 3.80* 2.96 1.99
Frame * Time 2.87 1.26 0.50 0.88
Frame * Belief 0.01 0.14 1.80 1.62
Time * Belief 0.41 2.10 3.43 0.99
Frame * Time * Belief 3.36 0.34 0.23 1.81
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heated election cycle in the US, when issues with political implications like climate change are more
salient. However, as noted, the effect of the framing manipulation was consistent in the three
samples.
Finally, there was a strong positive relationship between participantsbelief in global warming and
ratings of urgency, B= .627, SE = .015, p< .001.
Risk perception
A similar model tested for effects of the experimental manipulations and covariates on risk percep-
tion. It revealed a main effect of frame, F[2, 2848] = 5.60, p= .004, η
2
= .003, a main effect of
Figure 2. Goal by time horizon for each sample and overall (all samples collapsed). Error bars represent 95% confidence intervals.
Figure 3. Mean urgency for each framing condition, broken down by sample and for participants overall (all samples collapsed).
Error bars represent standard errors of the means.
ENVIRONMENTAL COMMUNICATION 777
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participantsbelief in global warming, F[2, 2848] = 1489.86, p< .001, η
2
= .341, and a marginal main
effect of sample, F[2, 2848] = 2.96, p= .052, η
2
= .001. No other main effects or interactions were
statistically significant (see Table 2).
As shown in Figure 4, participants reported the most risk when climate change was framed as a
war. The war and race frames differed significantly, B= .084, SE = .035, p= .016; neither metaphoric
frame differed significantly from the issue frame, ps > .25.
Ratings of risk perception were higher in Sample 3 than in Sample 1, B= .082, SE = .035, p= .021,
and marginally higher than those of Sample 2, B= .066, SE = .040, p= .099; there was no difference
between Samples 1 and 2, B= .015, SE = .041, p= .707. Again, this may have to do with the timing of
when these samples were collected.
As expected, there was a strong positive relationship between participantsbelief in global warm-
ing and ratings of urgency, B= .656, SE = .017, p< .001.
Willingness to change behavior
A final model tested for effects of the experimental manipulations and covariates on participants
willingness to change their behavior. It revealed a main effect of frame, F[2, 1870] = 8.61, p< .001,
η
2
= .006, and a main effect of participantsbelief in global warming, F[2, 1870] = 1113.28, p< .001,
η
2
= .369. No other main effects or interactions were statistically significant (see Table 2).
As shown in Figure 5, participants reported the most willingness to change their behavior when
they received the war frame. The war and race frames differed significantly, B= .108, SE = .037,
p= .004; the war frame was marginally different from the issue frame, B= .089, SE = .049, p
= .069; the race and issue frames did not differ from one another, B= .019, SE = .048, p= .696.
And, as expected, there was a strong positive relationship between participantsbelief in global
warming and ratings of urgency, B= .605, SE = .018, p< .001.
General discussion
Many nations worldwide have come to agree with scientists that global warming is real, and that
there is an urgent need for people need to get behind the idea that our climate is changing. Yet,
Figure 4. Mean risk perception for each framing condition, broken down by sample and for participants overall (all samples col-
lapsed). Error bars represent standard errors of the means.
778 S. J. FLUSBERG ET AL.
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despite hard scientific evidence and broad acknowledgment of the problem, some people remain
indifferent, confused, or downright opposed to the idea of anthropogenic climate change.
The current study is an important preliminary investigation of the effects of metaphor framing on
attitudes toward climate change and intentions to engage in conservation behaviors. Participants
read a brief article that metaphorically framed US efforts to reduce carbon emissions as a war or
race against climate change, or non-metaphorically framed these efforts in terms of the issue of cli-
mate change. We further manipulated whether these emission-reduction goals emphasized the rela-
tively near or distant future. After reading the article, participants responded to a series of questions
probing their attitudes toward climate change, and in some cases, they also indicated their willing-
ness to engage in a variety of conservation behaviors, such as reducing their intake of agricultural
products that derive from farming techniques known to contribute to climate change.
We focused primarily on the role of metaphor because metaphor is known to influence reasoning
in general, and because climate discourse is riddled with metaphorical language that draws on the
race and war source domains, as evident in headlines like: Are we losing the race against climate
change?(NPR), and: World losing battle against global warming(USA Today). Because of the
potential practical applications of this work, however, the inclusion of the non-metaphorical con-
dition provides an important contrast to the metaphorically framed reports.
Across three large samples of US participantscollected at different times during the 2016 calen-
dar yearthose who read the war metaphor article consistently reported a greater sense of urgency
and a greater perception of risk surrounding the issue of climate change, as well as a greater willing-
ness to increase conservation behavior, compared with those who read the race report. Though the
observed effect sizes were modest, they are consistent with other research on metaphor framing
(Sopory & Dillard, 2002; Thibodeau & Boroditsky, 2013; Thibodeau & Boroditsky, 2011), and
even small effects can have significant impacts in social and political media campaigns where out-
comes are often decided by slim margins (see Prentice & Miller, 1992).
Interestingly, the effects of the war frame were consistent whether US efforts to reduce greenhouse
gas emissions were situated in the relatively near or far future. Though federal emission reduction
goals did seem more realistic and achievable when these goals were more temporally distant, this
time horizon manipulation did not affect feelings of urgency or risk, nor did it affect a willingness
to change behavior to mitigate the effects of global warming. This is an important finding, because
Figure 5. Mean willingness to change behavior for each framing condition, broken down by sample and for participants overall (all
samples collapsed). Error bars represent standard errors of the means.
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it indicates that the effects of metaphor framing we observed do not depend on whether government
efforts to tackle the issue seem realistic or not.
Taken together, these results suggest that people are sensitive to the valence and intensity of the
war frame, and the observed pattern of results supports the hypothesis that war metaphors increase
feelings of urgency and risk surrounding the issue of global warming (Atanasova & Koteyko, 2015a).
These findings may be valuable to policymakers, politicians, public utility officers, newscasters, and
others who seek greater awareness of risk and buy invia public messaging. A war frame is useful to
framing issues around climate change because it captures attention. It leads people to infer risks,
especially risks associated with damages and loss, loss of lives, loss of money, and more (Loewenstein
& Lerner, 2003; Slovic et al., 2005). It also conveys opposition and struggle, and the need to form and
sustain a united front to avoid destruction. Thus the war metaphor has both cognitive and affective
consequences in the context of climate change. A race frame is also effective, but in some cases may
not be as robust at creating a sense of urgency and sparking behavioral changes; for now, the con-
sequences of losing a race do not appear to be as bad as those of losing a war.
It remains to be seen, however, whether war metaphors can be an effective long-term messaging
strategy for issues around climate change. An urgent, war-like call to action may be especially motiv-
ating in the short-term, but real (and metaphorical) wars tend to lose support over time. Consider
the recent US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan: Despite overwhelming political and public support for
these incursions in the wake of the 11 September 2001 attacks, by the end of first decade of the mil-
lennium, many Americans questioned the decision to use military force (Pew Research Center,
2008). Similarly, the war on drugshas lost public support in recent years, as recent polling data
indicate that two-thirds of Americans think the government should focus on providing treatment
for those who use illegal drugs (Pew Research Center, 2014). On the other hand, the war on climate
changedoes not involve the literal use of violence and punishment toward human beings, so it may
be that the effects of the metaphorical frame operate differently in this domain. Future research is
necessary to fully explore how the effects of metaphor framing shift over time.
In a similar vein, the power of the war frame may vary across different aspects of climate change.
Messages about the need to combat adverse health effects from air pollution, such as increased risk of
asthma and other respiratory diseases from increasing air pollutants, or the need to fight against
economic risks associated with climate change may lead to a greater sense of urgency than messages
about the need to combat sea rise and melting ice sheets. The power of the war frame may also vary
depending on the geographical location of heightened risk. How does a war framing work when it is
used to target specific problems associated with specific regions, like drought in the Southwest US or
blizzards in the Northeast US? Once again, more research is needed to gain a better sense of how and
when metaphor is more or less robust in its influence on attitude and behavior.
The discussion so far has focused on contrasting the effects of the war and race frames on par-
ticipant attitudes, but we also included a non-metaphorical issue frame in two of the samples col-
lected in our study. Participants who read the non-metaphorical article tended to report levels of
urgency, risk perception, and willingness to change behavior at a level intermediate between those
who read the war and race reports. However, these responses were for the most part not statistically
different from responses in the two metaphorical conditions.
On the one hand, it can be difficult to directly compare how people respond to metaphorical and
non-metaphorical stimuli in studies of linguistic framing, since these stimuli will differ in a variety of
ways besides the presence or absence of a figurative component (see Thibodeau & Boroditsky, 2015).
On the other hand, because of the potential applications of the present research for climate com-
munications and public messaging, it is important to consider the practical significance of partici-
pant responses to the issue frame. In particular, these findings suggest that talking about climate
change using non-metaphorical language may be just (or nearly) as effective as invoking the meta-
phor of war for promoting a sense of urgency and risk and for encouraging behavior change. This is
somewhat consistent with previous work discussed in the introduction, which found that compari-
sons to other domains (i.e. to doctorsconsensus about a childs illness) did not facilitate
780 S. J. FLUSBERG ET AL.
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communication about the scientific consensus on climate change relative to plain text or charts (van
der Linden et al., 2014). That being said, the present findings do support the idea that when it comes
to choosing a metaphor to talk about climate change, the war metaphor is consistently more impact-
ful than the race metaphor.
As a result, this study may potentially be useful to educators and scientists whose job is to use
effective ways to communicate climate findings to a general audience. A growing body of research
shows that metaphor plays a vital role in the understanding and communication of abstract concepts
in STEM areas, including mathematics (Marghetis & Núñez, 2013; Winter, Marghetis, & Matlock,
2015), biology (Keller, 2002), chemistry (Watkins, 1989), and physics (Pulaczewska, 1999). In
addition, more research has begun to investigate metaphors that appear in environmental discourse
(e.g. Lakoff, 2010; Larson, 2011; Nerlich et al., 2010). However, little research has focused on the uti-
lity of metaphor in discourse about climate change, especially how it may help develop better strat-
egies for communicating about climate change. An important part of the present project involves
understanding the inferences people make about urgency and risk related to climate change, and
the influence metaphor has on attitudes toward these issues. This work may help us find better
ways of talking and thinking about climate change and other large-scale problems in the years to
come.
Acknowledgements
We thank the editor and anonymous reviewers for helpful comments on this manuscript.
Disclosure statement
No potential conflict of interest was reported by the authors.
Funding
This research was supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation [1534479].
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The use of metaphors often characterizes contemporary public discourses on various issues. By the same token, metaphors have been used extensively in the discourse on the COVID-19 pandemic. This paper examines the WAR metaphor as a framing and rhetorical device with distinct persuasive potency within the Croatian sociocultural context. The analysis shows that militaristic metaphors were omnipresent in the Croatian public discourse at the beginning of the pandemic. Their dual role, explanatory and persuasive, was instrumental in convincing the public to understand the pandemic and accept the restrictive mandates put in place.
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The use of metaphors often characterizes contemporary public discourses on various issues. By the same token, metaphors have been used extensively in the discourse on the COVID-19 pandemic. This paper examines the WAR metaphor as a framing and rhetorical device with distinct persuasive potency within the Croatian sociocultural context. The analysis shows that militaristic metaphors were omnipresent in the Croatian public discourse at the beginning of the pandemic. Their dual role, explanatory and persuasive, was instrumental in convincing the public to understand the pandemic and accept the restrictive mandates put in place.
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The use of metaphors aids understanding by allowing us to think of complex problems in terms of relatively simple and more concrete information. As such, metaphors shape thought and guide future action. While metaphors are known to play a role in medical treatment decision-making, the effect of particular metaphors is unknown. This paper explores the metaphors West-European parents use for their child suffering from a life-limiting condition by analysing 15 blogs from Dutch, German and English and Welsh parents. The analysis found that all parents use war metaphors to describe their child and their disease. Describing their child in war metaphors, for example, ‘fighter’, ‘hero’ or ‘trooper’ allows parents to express their pride in their child. To describe the familial situation parents use both ‘life as a fight’ and a ‘time as space’ metaphor. Time is conceptualised as a space to be filled with positive experiences to allow the child to live as full a life as possible. In medical treatment decisions, parents balance ‘fighting the disease’ against their child’s ability to live a good life. No evidence was found that the use of war metaphors increase a tendency to treat when benefit is unlikely. Instead, parents primarily use war metaphors as a conduit to express their love for their child and to empower them to manage the familial situation.
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This paper argues different policy issue framings of climate change—ranging from security to energy, economics, humanitarian response, and health frames—play critical roles in altering policy outcomes. Specifically, we focus on the several windows of opportunity that altered the pathway of the US climate change debates from 1985 to 2017. Progressing from the underpinnings of issue framing literature and public policy discourse, we conduct content analysis of news articles, academic papers, policy documents and other archival evidence, to show why and when environmental framings shift, and to what effect. Our innovative models provide generalization of these trends and their implications for environmental agenda setting, complemented by a qualitative section that contextualizes impact as well as the feedback mechanisms of issue framing on environmental politics in the United States. The findings highlight the need for future case study analysis to trace the causal mechanisms between climate change framings and US policy outcomes.
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“We Don’t Need A ‘War’ on Climate Change, We Need a Revolution” with Aaron Jaffe, in The Stone (blog). New York Times, October 31, 2016. http://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/31/opinion/we-dont-need-a-war-on-climate-change-we-need-a-revolution.html
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While many scholars have pointed to the role of metaphor in explanation, relatively little experimental research has examined whether and how metaphors are used and understood in everyday explanatory discourse. Across 3 experiments, we investigated the nature and function of metaphor in explanation by drawing on a real-world example where the terms guardian and warrior were used to metaphorically explain the role of police officers. We found, first, that the associations participants brought to mind for these concepts differed depending on whether they had previously answered questions about law enforcement (e.g., associations for warrior emphasized aggression and violence rather than strength and bravery when participants had previously answered questions about policing). Second, people were almost evenly split in their judgment of which metaphor was more appropriate to explain the role of law enforcement; this preference was highly predictive of beliefs related to policing and the criminal justice system. Third, and most important, using these metaphors to explain the job of policing causally influenced attitudes toward law enforcement in a metaphor-congruent manner (i.e., exposure to the guardian metaphor led to more positive attitudes), a finding that could not be accounted for by basic lexical priming. These studies complement existing work that has identified metaphor as a mechanism for representing abstract concepts, but also highlight the communicative and explanatory, rather than representational, functions of metaphor by showing that metaphors can encapsulate and convey an array of structured attitudes and beliefs.
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The consensus that humans are causing recent global warming is shared by 90%–100% of publishing climate scientists according to six independent studies by co-authors of this paper. Those results are consistent with the 97% consensus reported by Cook et al (Environ. Res. Lett. 8 024024) based on 11 944 abstracts of research papers, of which 4014 took a position on the cause of recent global warming. A survey of authors of those papers (N = 2412 papers) also supported a 97% consensus. Tol (2016 Environ. Res. Lett. 11 048001) comes to a different conclusion using results from surveys of non-experts such as economic geologists and a self-selected group of those who reject the consensus. We demonstrate that this outcome is not unexpected because the level of consensus correlates with expertise in climate science. At one point, Tol also reduces the apparent consensus by assuming that abstracts that do not explicitly state the cause of global warming ('no position') represent non-endorsement, an approach that if applied elsewhere would reject consensus on well-established theories such as plate tectonics. We examine the available studies and conclude that the finding of 97% consensus in published climate research is robust and consistent with other surveys of climate scientists and peer-reviewed studies.
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This study examines and critiques the discursive construction of a Hobbesian “war of all against all” in North American commercial news magazines. The prevalence of war metaphors and related adversarial news schemas is documented over a twenty year period, from 1981 to 2000, through an analysis of TIME and Newsweek, along with their Canadian counterpart Maclean’s. After documenting the pervasiveness of these discursive constructs, the paper discusses the underlying causes and potential consequences of these patterns in commercial news discourse. The paper concludes by asserting that this discursively constructed “war of all against all” is highly problematic and unsustainable in an age of increasing social and ecological interdependence. Accordingly, scholars who are interested in peace and conflict resolution would do well to take into account the role that news discourse and other forms of mass-mediated communication play in the perpetuation of social conflict.
Book
The now-classic Metaphors We Live By changed our understanding of metaphor and its role in language and the mind. Metaphor, the authors explain, is a fundamental mechanism of mind, one that allows us to use what we know about our physical and social experience to provide understanding of countless other subjects. Because such metaphors structure our most basic understandings of our experience, they are "metaphors we live by"--metaphors that can shape our perceptions and actions without our ever noticing them. In this updated edition of Lakoff and Johnson's influential book, the authors supply an afterword surveying how their theory of metaphor has developed within the cognitive sciences to become central to the contemporary understanding of how we think and how we express our thoughts in language.