Why is it so difficult to discuss pro-environmental messages with political conservatives – and is it possible to change their views?
A new Polish study investigated how to target environmental messages to people on the political right, who tend to prefer tradition and are unlikely to change their beliefs around climate change.
The report by The Polish Association of Social Psychology suggests that simply changing the language around environmental messaging does little to make people change their minds.
The researchers wrote: "Research indicates that liberals and conservatives make moral judgements based on different sets of moral foundations.”
"Whereas more liberal people tend to rely on individualising morals which value individuals' rights and justices with empathetic motivation, more conservative people tend to rely on binding morals, which value in-group loyalty, purity, order, and conventions."
But the new study found that ‘adapting’ environmental messages to use language such as “purity” has little effect, the researchers say.
“In a pilot study, we constructed three environmental messages incorporating each binding moral based on previous relevant studies, and confirmed their validity with 96 US adults," researchers wrote.
“We then investigated the independent effects of these binding moral messages on pro-environmentalism across the political spectrum with 705 US adults.
“Contrasting with our expectations and previous findings, we found no evidence that these environmental messages emphasising distinct binding morals were more effective than a control environmental message.”
This chimes with previous research, the researchers added.
Researchers from Victoria University of Wellington recently found that while conservatives did respond to messages that brought up either loyalty, authority or purity – for example,"Preserving that purity is important. We should regard the pollution of the places we live in to be disgusting" – they also responded to 'plain' wording such as "protect the natural environment of the places we live in".
The authors of that report wrote, "More conservative people are likely to avoid uncertainty and change, they tend to deny the threats of anthropogenic climate change and be reluctant to take pro-environmental behaviours that require behavioural changes."
Conservatives, they added, “tend to oppose pro-environmental policies because they think that these policies would undermine the economy and their economic liberty by regulating their business and behaviours"
The new study suggests that environmental campaigns need to do more than change their language.
The researchers said that “pro-environmental campaigns need to consider other conservative values, norms, identity, and political context to be more effective for more politically diverse people”.