Clouds in Africa

What is the Overton window? Part 2

Robert Pimm
Robert Pimm

The Overton window is a way of describing the acceptable range of political culture at any given moment.  Wikipedia defines it as “the range of policies politically acceptable to the mainstream population at a given time”.

The Overton window can move, or be moved, so that an action or point of view which was formerly unacceptable becomes acceptable.  I wrote about this in my 2018 post The Overton window and social media manipulationgiving as an example of the Overton window Brexit: an idea which was not mainstream in the 1990s but became British government policy by 2016.

So I was intrigued to see in an Austrian newspaper on 31 May a piece by the Austrian meteorologist and climate researcher Helga Kromp-Kolb (in German) linking the Overton window and Coronavirus to climate change.

 

This short video on my YouTube channel features ominous weather

Ms Kromp-Kolb drew attention in 2019 when she compared children asking their parents, in the future, whether they had flown to London to go shopping despite knowing about the dangers of climate change with children asking their parents what National Socialism had been like, and what they had done about it.

In her 31 May 2020 piece, Ms Kromp-Kolb notes that groups such as “Extinction Rebellion” seek to shift the Overton window in order to bring about political action against climate change by altering the way people feel about flying, or about investing in fossil fuel.  If, say, the Overton window moves so that the idea that flying is dangerous to the planet becomes mainstream, then people may stop doing it, or governments discourage it.

She goes on to argue that the coronavirus crisis has dramatically moved the Overton window by rendering acceptable – or in some cases making government policy – a whole lot of things which previously were unthinkable, including:

  • closing schools;
  • mass working from home;
  • grounding air travel;
  • restricting freedom of assembly.

Some of these changes, she argues, should be reversed – such as restrictions on freedom of assembly.  The fact that the coronavirus has made possible others, however, such as more working from home or less air travel, could open the way to changing the way people think about these permanently, through changes to policy.

“Every crisis brings risks and opportunities,” she concludes.

I thought Ms Kromp-Kolb’s arguments not only fascinating but also an excellent example of the Overton window and how it can be applied to political analysis.

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One Response

  1. I don’t think this is the last we’ll see of the Overton window – they’re popping up all over the place in these interesting times. Understandably you keep a safe distance from overtly political comment Leigh, but I hope a time will come when you can give full rein to your thoughts on how governments are doing. Great work – I’m so impressed at your perseverance and breadth of thinking!

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