The Moral Roots of Environmental Attitudes

Researchers at Stanford and UC Berkeley examine why Americans’ attitudes about the environment are highly polarized and how moralized discourse may be affecting the ideological divide.



The type of moral rhetoric often used to convey environmental concerns may contribute to the polarization of environmental attitudes among liberals and conservatives. The authors suggest that reframing the environmental discourse in different moral terms could reduce the ideological gap in environmental concern.
Perceptions of whether environmental concern is a moral issue may depend on the way environmental concerns and morality are discussed.
Morality and moral convictions are influential in the formation of political attitudes.
Individuals who recognize, and feel personally responsible for, the consequences of environmental degradation, are more likely to view proenvironmental behavior as moral.
A media analysis found that contemporary environmental discourse is based largely on moral concerns related to harm and care, which are more deeply held by liberals than by conservatives.
Liberals and conservatives possess different moral profiles. Reframing proenvironmental rhetoric in terms of purity, a moral value resonating primarily among conservatives, largely eliminated the difference between liberals’ and conservatives’ environmental attitudes.
Many Christian groups, though traditionally conservative, have become proponents of the environment as they emphasize humanity’s role as stewards of the earth charged with keeping pure and sacred God’s creation.
Framing environmental issues in different moral terms offers one way to improve communication between opposing sides that typically talk past one another.


Date: 2012
Organization: Psychological Science
Strategic Approach: Audiences, Engagement, Framing, Other
Organization: Psychological Science
Strategic Approach: Audiences, Engagement, Framing, Other

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