Conservatives who reject the science of climate change aren’t necessarily reacting to the science, according to a new study from researchers at Duke University. They’re reacting to the fact that they don’t like proposed solutions more strongly identified with liberals.
– from Conservatives Don’t Hate Climate Change, They Hate The Proposed Solutions: Study in Huffington Post
There may be a scientific answer for why conservatives and liberals disagree so vehemently over the existence of issues like climate change and specific types of crime.
A new study from Duke University finds that people will evaluate scientific evidence based on whether they view its policy implications as politically desirable. If they don’t, then they tend to deny the problem even exists.
– from Denying Problems When We Don’t Like The Solutions, Duke University
This can be understood through the lens of identity. Conservatives assume that the solutions to climate change don’t fit with their conservative identity, so they deny the problem even exists.
My uncle is a good example. He deeply loved nature and even taught biology at the university. At the same time, he deeply despised hippies and environmentalists. So he would take a position against sustainability and anything else he associated with dirty hippies and dangerously naive environmentalists. This included the reality and importance of climate change. It’s possible that the thought of agreeing with dirty hippies was too much for him, even if he loved nature and was an environmentalist at heart.
How can we use this understanding? For instance, how can we frame the topic so it’s less threatening to the conservative identity, or so it fits well into and is attractive to the conservative identity?
Here are some ideas for framing and communication:
Highlight reasons for supporting sustainability that match conservative values and identity. It allows us to maintain our society and traditions. It’s good for business. (Opens for new business opportunities.) It’s good for our families and children, and their children. We take care of God’s creation. We are better stewards of God’s creation.
Highlight solutions that fit into conservative values and identity. (See that there are solutions that are non-threatening, or even attractive, from a conservative view.) Reduce taxes on sustainable technology, products and energy. Subsidize businesses that move strongly in a sustainable direction, in how they operate and the services and products they offer. Emphasize business opportunities. Support innovation in sustainable products and services.
Highlight conservative business and political leaders who (a) acknowledge the need for sustainability, (b) support sustainability, and (c) embrace solutions to sustainability that fits into the conservative values and identity. (See that it’s possible.)
And some research ideas:
Divide up in two, three or four conservative groups: cultural conservatives, old fashioned business conservatives, free-market liberals, libertarians.
Offer differently framed messages, and see if how they respond.
Different messages: (a) Connect it with traditional environmentalists and their message. (This would be a control group of sorts, and is likely to get an averse reaction from many.) (b) Highlight how it fits conservative values. (c) Highlight solutions that fit conservative values. (d) Highlight conservatives who actively support sustainability. (e) Combine b-d. (f) Possibly target the different types of conservatives within b-d.
The control group would receive an unrelated message before answering these questions. The other groups would receive the messages outlined above.
Outcomes: How important they see sustainability. If they see sustainability as desirable and supportive of families, communities, and business. Their support of solutions aligned with their values. How important it is that the solutions and approaches align with their (conservative) values.
Do preliminary studies and interviews to (a) identify types of conservatives, and (b) which types of messages seem to resonate the most for each of these types.
The message can be written, or audio or video.
It’s important to note that this is coming from an honest place. By framing the message so it fits conservative values and identities, it’s just made available to another group of people. They get to see that sustainability very well can fit their values. And, possibly, that it’s something they can support more wholeheartedly through voting, words and actions.
Note: What are the values of a green conservative? It will depend on the type of conservative, and there are probably books on the topic, and groups out there who define as green conservatives. And, of course, as with any greens, there are light (small steps) and deep (deep restructuring) variations, and also green-washing (sustainability in name only).