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”.
Moving the Window
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 manipulation, giving as an example of Brexit: an idea which was not mainstream in the 1990s but became British government policy by 2016.
The Window and Coronavirus
So I was intrigued to see in an Austrian newspaper on 31 May 2020 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.
Shifting the Window on Climate
Ms Kromp-Kolb’s piece appeared on 31 May 2020. She says groups such as “Extinction Rebellion” seek to shift the Overton window. Their goal is to alter 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. But coronavirus has made possible other, potentially permanent, changes. These include e.g. more working from home or less air travel.
“Every crisis brings risks and opportunities,” she concludes.
I thought Ms Kromp-Kolb’s arguments were fascinating. They are also an excellent example of how to apply the Overton window to political analysis.
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