Explaining the intriguing title ‘Of Looking Glasses and Overton Windows’

Hi everyone! My name’s Rick Herron, and this is my first blog post as an Duke Environment Ambassador.

I thought I would start off with an explanation of my blog’s title, “Of Looking Glasses and Overton Windows.” Truth be told, I probably should have gone with something slightly less esoteric, but you live and you learn.

To its credit, the title does capture two of the climate-related questions I’m most interested in answering.

Of Looking Glasses is a reference to the classic “Through the Looking Glass, and What Alice Found There” by Lewis Carroll. It’s the sequel to the more widely known Alice in Wonderland, and in it Alice steps through a mirror (looking glass) into a strange new world.

While not in wide use, the phrase “through the looking glass” has been used by some political commentators to try and capture the strangeness of U.S. climate politics. How do we move forward when one major party in the U.S. is one of the only major political parties in the world to deny that climate change is a problem? How can this be overcome, either through persuasion or mobilization? How does the fact that one major political party denies the problem shape the policy solutions that are offered and the public discourse around climate change?

The Overton window is a concept from political science. It is a metaphor that attempts to capture the full range of political ideas or solutions that are accepted in the public discourse. Any idea that is too extreme to be politically viable is said to lie outside the Overton window.

In the context of climate change, the idea of “deep decarbonization” (that is, getting net emissions to zero) by mid-century has been discussed by some policymakers and a handful of elected officials, but it is arguably not yet within the Overton window in the U.S. (Paris Accord commitments notwithstanding).

So how do we push on the Overton window? How do we move the discussion of climate solutions towards proposals that are commensurate with the challenge that we face?

I don’t think I have any good answers to the strange “through the looking glass” state of U.S. climate politics, or to the question of how to pull ambitious climate solutions into the Overton window. But I think I have two of the right questions.

Throughout this year, I’ll be sharing many of my experiences as an MEM student here at the Nic School.  I hope that the people I meet, the faculty and students I learn from, and the classes I take will help me answer those questions, and help me figure out what tiny part I’m meant to play.

One thought on “Explaining the intriguing title ‘Of Looking Glasses and Overton Windows’

  1. Hey Rick, we are living in a corporate business world. Protecting environment basically means real bad news for the industrialist. Recent comments and decisions from certain powerful corners made it clear that no matter what happens to the environment their show must go on.

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