Year of Award


Document Type


Degree Type

Master of Arts (MA)

Degree Name

Communication Studies

Department or School/College

Department of Communication Studies

Committee Chair

Sara Hayden

Commitee Members

Joel Iverson, Phil Condon


environmental rhetoric, Bill McKibben, dramatism, environmental melodrama, tragic and comic frames, social movements


University of Montana

Subject Categories



In the last five years, as climate change became less abstract and more noticeable, conversations surrounding the issues have begun to change. In the past, solutions to climate change were framed in terms of how individuals can made a difference—and yet, no significant changes have occurred. Research shows that the main contributors to climate change are the fossil fuel industry, as both extraction and consumption of fossil fuel products are irresponsible and unsustainable. Thus, it is important for climate change conflict to leave the personal sphere and become more prominent as a political controversy.

Bill McKibben’s blended framing of climate change incorporates elements of self-reflexivity and identification needed to keep citizens involved in the conflict, but also requires that the biggest contributors to the problem be held responsible. His melodramatic frames demand that audiences reconsider societal values and complicity to power structures, as their allegiances with the fossil fuel industry allows for continued international exploitation of both people and natural resources. From here, his application of learning based, comic frames combat the limitations that arise from victim/villain frames. His rhetoric offers audiences an opportunity to see themselves reflected in the learning and mistakes of their friends and neighbors, and encourages people to unify together as communities to both challenge one another to live more sustainably, but also to combat this exploitation and complicity from local levels, and then on up through the government.

By combining contrasting frames together, McKibben is able to not only create well constructed examples of both comic and tragic frames in environmental rhetoric, but he is able to address the limitation that occur when complex situations are simplified by framing techniques. The combination of these frames, and their insistence of both political involvement and citizen engagement, allows for the discovery of potential solutions which may not have been visible had either frame been used simply by itself.

Included in

Communication Commons



© Copyright 2015 Megan E. Cullinan