New Report: Morality May Be the Key to Engaging Americans on Climate Change
As we’ve mentioned here before, 2015 was a pivotal year for the climate movement – in large part because faith leaders like Pope Francis helped reframe climate change as a moral issue. A new study by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication found that this message could resonate well with Americans who are currently unconcerned about climate change.
In spring of 2015, before the Pope released his encyclical, around three-quarters of Americans thought of climate change as primarily an environmental issue – only one-third saw it as a moral issue. But most Americans also believe caring for the poor and protecting future generations is important. So in fact, their values support climate action, whether they realize it or not.
The moral argument is particularly important for Americans because our population is more religious than many other industrialized nations. Respondents to the study who fall under the category of “dismissive” or “doubtful” of climate change say they will reject a scientific explanation if it conflicts with their religious views – so for prominent faith leaders to not only express belief in climate science, but also call for urgent action is a big deal. In recent months, many people heard for the first time – from leaders they respect and trust – that climate change disproportionally impacts the poor, and that humankind must act in the name of social justice.
As the authors of the study point out, the more clearly we can demonstrate that climate action helps both the poor and the environment (and will create a better world for future generations), the better we’ll be able to engage whole new segments of the American public.
By Connie Roser-Renouf and Edward Maibach of George Mason University and Anthony Leiserowitz, Geoffrey Feinberg, and Seth Rosenthal of Yale University
Our new report: “Faith, Morality and the Environment: Portraits of Global Warming’s Six Americas” explores Americans’ receptivity to a moral framing around the issue of climate change.
Over the course of 2015, we witnessed an evolution in public discourse on global warming. Typically discussed in the news media solely as a scientific, environmental or political issue, global warming is now being reframed as a moral and spiritual issue by religious leaders – most notably by Pope Francis. Americans are now hearing – often for the first time – that global warming will have severe impacts on the world’s poor; that it violates divine dictates on the treatment of nature; and that it requires a concerted response from all nations in the name of social justice and God’s will.
To explore Americans’ receptivity to a moral framing, in Spring 2015, before the Pope’s encyclical and visit to the U.S., we assessed the religious and spiritual values and beliefs of Global Warming’s Six Americas, six groups within the American public with very different views on global warming. We found that most Americans at the time did not view global warming as a moral issue. Only the most concerned groups – the Alarmed and Concerned – viewed global warming as a moral issue, and only the Alarmed viewed it as an issue of social justice or poverty. Less than a third of any segment said global warming is a spiritual or religious issue, and 40 percent said that their views on the issue reflected their core moral values only slightly or not at all.
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