“Do You want New Zealand to be taken seriously?”: the clash of crisis narratives in environmental debates
Political actors construct and deploy crisis narratives both to describe existing reality and to implore action. In general terms, such narratives tend to serve an anti-political function as they seek to de-legitimate dissent and to naturalise their authors’ preferred course of action. However, it is obviously not the case that all crisis narratives are equally effective in marginalising opposing perspectives. In this paper, I attend to the varying levels of effectiveness that different crisis narratives have. Referring to the public policy literature on problem definition, I note that a clash of crisis narratives within a policy controversy can be seen as a battle for the capacity or authority to define the most salient problem. It is hardly news that calls for action in response to an environmental crisis struggle to overcome arguments that appeal to crises that are primarily economic in nature, such as the ‘debt crisis’ or a broader ‘crisis of economic competitiveness’. My aim in this paper is descriptive (to record the logic of discursive contestation in a particular policy controversy) and practical (to ask how arguments that invoke an environmental crisis might be made more effectively.) Critically applying the approach of narrative policy analysis, I examine the debates that surrounded the genetic modification debate in 2001/2. I ask why those arguments predicated on a sense of environmental crisis had only a limited political impact, and I analyse the cultural and institutional factors that contributed to that limited impact.