Relevant Degree Programs
Graduate Student Supervision
Master's Student Supervision (2010-2017)
There is scientific consensus that anthropogenic climate change is occurring and that it has had and will continue to have profoundly negative social, economic, and environmental consequences. The US government has not taken sufficient action to mitigate the threat of dangerous climate change. Frustrated by the lack of action in the legislative and executive branches, climate advocates have turned to the judicial branch and litigation to advance their cause. Litigation is important not only for its ability to create substantive legal change, but also for its power to generate media coverage and shape public and political discourse. There is growing recognition of the important contributions psychology can make to the study and practice of law. Research in psychology helps illuminate why the US public has had trouble engaging with the science of climate change, understanding the risks posed by climate change, and feeling motivated to take corrective action. Research also shows that how a public health issue is framed powerfully shapes the public debate and policy prescriptions for that issue. This thesis examines how climate advocates can construct their litigation messaging in light of insights from psychological and framing theories to most effectively advance the climate movement in the US. I chose to analyze three climate change litigation strategies that might present an opportunity of overcoming the public’s psychological hurdles to engaging with climate change and offer a narrative on climate change that would resonate with the public. In conducting my analysis, I found that, if used effectively, the medium of litigation offers a unique opportunity to reframe climate change and overcome the public’s cognitive hurdles to perceiving the true dangers of climate change. The structure of litigation, which requires plaintiffs to trace their injuries—including economic, social, and health-related injuries—to the actions of defendants, allows climate advocates to leverage insights from framing and psychology to make their climate change narratives as salient as possible.