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New York magazine has figured out why conservatives don’t believe climate change is an imminent threat: we have a serious psychological problem.
As a result, environmental activists are working with shrinks to retool their message for the red states:
[S]ocial scientists have shown in laboratory settings that there are ways to discuss climate change that nudge conservatives toward recognizing the issue. Research is proceeding along a few different tracks. One of them involves moral foundations theory, a hot idea in political psychology that basically argues that people holding different political beliefs arrive at those beliefs because they have different moral values (even if there’s plenty of overlap). Liberals tend to be more moved by the idea of innocent people being harmed than conservatives, for example, while conservatives are more likely to react to notions of disgust (some of the conservative rhetoric over immigration reflects this difference).
I assume the “innocent people” in this study don’t include the unborn, though I agree that most conservatives are disgusted by abortion. The article provides zero examples of conservative disgust on the immigration debate. Most of the arguments I’ve seen focus on economics, security, and national sovereignty. But no worries — greenies have discovered other mental defects to exploit:
Another promising route that researchers are exploring involves the concept of “system justification.” Put simply, system justification arises from the deep-seated psychological need for humans to feel like the broad systems they are a part of are working correctly. It doesn’t feel good to know you attend a broken school or inhabit a deeply corrupt country — or that your planet’s entire ecology may be on the brink of collapse.
People tend to deal with major threats to their systems in one of two ways: taking a threat so seriously that they seek out ways to neutralize it, or “finding ways to justify away problems in order to maintain the sense of legitimacy and well-being of the system,” explained Irina Feygina, a social psychologist at New York University. This latter route is system justification.
Conservatives don’t have a monopoly on system justification, but there’s strong evidence they do it more than liberals. “There’s a lot of research that just goes out and asks people what their opinions and preferences are, and pretty consistently — I don’t actually know of any examples to the contrary — people who tend to report being further on the conservative end of the spectrum also report having greater confidence in the system and greater motivation to justify it,” said Feygina.
Researchers found positive responses to phrases such as “being pro-environmental allows us to protect and preserve the American way of life,” and “it is patriotic to conserve the country’s natural resources.” That’s nice as far as it goes, but doesn’t touch the heart of the left/right disconnect.
I know many, many people on the right, but don’t believe that I’ve met any who aren’t conservationists. We have always wanted to “conserve the country’s natural resources” and “protect and preserve the American way of life.” That these psychologists were unaware of this truth reveals they know little about conservative beliefs. Perhaps they’ve bought into the tired liberal caricature of greedy oil tycoons strip-mining national parks as rows of smokestacks belch soot hither and yon.
Unlike many leftists, we pick up after ourselves, try to save fuel, and enjoy the great outdoors. We vote for clean drinking water and don’t want smog-choked cities or garbage-filled lakes. That is a far cry from believing that man-made climate change has doomed our fragile planet to a nightmarish hellscape that will kill us all.
Partisan psychologists have a lot of work to do if they want to move conservatives from “it’s nice to save energy” to “we need a one-world government with 90 percent tax rates or the planet will melt.”
P.S. Today marks 18 years without global warming.