When climate change is not blamed: the politics of disaster attribution in international perspective

Myanna Lahsen, Gabriela De Azevedo Couto, Irene Lorenzoni

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20 Citations (Scopus)
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Analyzing the politics and policy implications in Brazil of attributing extreme weather events to climate change, we argue for greater place-based sensitivity in recommendations for how to frame extreme weather events relative to climate change. Identifying geographical limits of current recommendations to emphasize the climate role in such events, we explore Brazilian framings of the two tragic national disasters, as apparent in newspaper coverage of climate change. We find that a variety of contextual factors compel environmental leaders and scientists in Brazil to avoid and discourage highlighting the role of climate change in national extreme events. Against analysts’ general deficit-finding assumptions, we argue that the Brazilian framing tendency reflects sound strategic, socio-environmental reasoning, and discuss circumstances in which attributing such events to climate change—and, by extension, attribution science—can be ineffective for policy action on climate change and other socio-environmental issues in need of public pressure and preventive action. The case study has implications beyond Brazil by begging greater attention to policies and politics in particular places before assuming that attribution science and discursive emphasis on the climate role in extreme events are the most strategic means of achieving climate mitigation and disaster preparedness. Factors at play in Brazil might also structure extreme events attribution politics in other countries, not least some other countries of the global South.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)213–233
Number of pages21
JournalClimatic Change
Issue number2
Early online date27 Dec 2019
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2020


  • Brazil
  • United States
  • attribution politics
  • climate change
  • disasters
  • extreme events
  • framing
  • global South

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