Kahneman, 1981). “Frames” often take the form of a relatively small set of interpretive stories or contextual clues that guide attention, highlight certain problem features (and not others), and influence subsequent decision making. The use of different frames can lead to dramatically different choices. Nisbet (2009) argues that people “rely on frames to make sense of and discuss an issue; journalists use frames to craft interesting and appealing news reports; policy makers apply frames to define policy options and reach decisions; and experts employ frames to simplify technical details and make them persuasive.” The way an issue is framed often affects the way in which people use information and choose information sources and can constrain the range of decisions and choices they see as available to themselves and others.
Climate change itself has been framed in many different ways, each of which leads decision makers to think differently about how to respond (see Table 1.2). For example, one of the dominant sources of conflict in international climate negotiations derives from three alternative framings of the source of GHG emissions (national, per capita, and historical) and, therefore, who is responsible for reducing emissions. Using a national frame, China is now the world’s largest emitter of CO2e, and the United States is second. Russia is the third largest emitting country and India is now the fourth largest national emitter of CO2e (Table 1.2).
The national frame alone suggests that China, Russia, the United States, and India must reduce their emissions immediately if the world is to restrain climate change.3 The per capita frame (dividing national emissions by the number of people in each country), however, tells a different story and leads to very different conclusions. The United States is by far the largest emitter in the world by per capita. By contrast, the average Chinese and Indian emit significantly less. Using this frame, Chinese, Indian, and other developing country negotiators argue that it is unfair for developed countries like the United States, who continue to emit far more carbon per person, to demand emission reductions from countries that are struggling to lift the living standards of billions currently living in poverty. These two contrasting frames lie at the heart of the current international climate debate and lead to different ways of assigning responsibility for action.
Finally, the historical frame identifies the primary sources of the already high concentrations of GHGs in the atmosphere today and further complicates the story. Cumulatively, since 1751, at the level of individual countries, the United States has been by far the largest emitter of carbon, while the USSR is the second largest emitter (based
Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center, Oak Ridge National Laboratory; see http://cdiac.ornl.gov/trends/emis/meth_reg.html.