Ronald B. Mitchell, University of Oregon (Bend, OR): The Problem Structure of Climate Change and The Need for a Discursive Transition
The problem structure surrounding climate change creates material incentives for individuals and countries that generate a bias toward inaction. The existing rhetorical context is dominated by a logic of consequences frame that views it as legitimate and appropriate for actors to choose to continue or alter business-as-usual behaviors and emission trajectories based on the relative costs and benefits of alternative strategies. Within such an interest-based rhetorical frame, what action is undertaken is highly unlikely to be adequate to the task of addressing climate change. A discursive transition to a logic of appropriateness rhetorical context is needed to prompt aggregate actions that are adequate to address climate change. Experience with slavery, colonialism, landmines, and whaling demonstrate that self-conscious efforts by norm entrepreneurs can succeed in prompting such a discursive transition that, in turn, can prompt new international policies and relatively rapid behavioral change despite continuing interest-based incentives for actors to resist such change. Evidence of initial movement toward such a discursive transition is available in the climate change arena.
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