Climate Change as a Moral Issue for the World (2)
In a previous article, the six psychological challenges climate change poses to the human moral judgment system were discussed in the light of the question: Why does climate change fail to push our buttons as moral beings?
A study from Nature Climate Change attempts to shed light on why humanity as moral (and emotional, Grist’s David Roberts adds) beings do not perceive climate change as a moral wrong of our time that needs to be righted.
The reasons include the cognitive and abstract nature of climate change as well as humans’ preference for unreasonable optimism while avoiding unpleasant admission of guilt. The researchers who conducted the study gave six psychological strategies to counter these challenges. These are suggestions on how to strengthen recognition of climate change as a moral issue:
- Use existing moral values
- Burdens versus benefits
- Emotional carrots, not sticks
- Be wary of extrinsic motivators
- Expand group identity
- Highlight positive social norms
The first strategy is a good starting point, as existing moral values toward nature and the environment are observed to be entrenched across cultures. A study featured in Science Daily discussed how certain cultural values in some cultures seem to predispose people toward sustainability-oriented behavior. If people can recognize that sustainability needs to be prioritized over short-term gains, the same can be hoped for climate change as a moral issue as well. This is important ground to cover for both goals (prioritizing sustainability, recognition of climate change as a moral imperative) to be achieved.
The strategy “burdens over benefits” seems to merely aim toward making people “own up” their responsibility over their contribution to the problem, and perhaps their guilt. This might not work well for some people, but its goal remains the same: recognize climate change as an imperative. The third suggested strategy can be related to the first, as people tend to have emotional attachment to the things they value. The fourth strategy reinforces the previous one, in that the best way to motivate people is not to tempt them through external rewards, but through leading them to have an internal drive to achieve the set goal. All good teachers know this; all good leaders as well. External rewards, no matter how glamorous, can only go so far and rarely motivate a person’s long term efforts.
The last two psychological strategies can be firmly established only if the previous ones have been laid down. Recognizing climate change as a moral judgment issue does not happen in a group setting; an individual must make the decision himself and recognize it. Climate change as an imperative, however, is too big for any one person. Once it has been recognized, the natural development of individual awareness is to communicate it to a larger whole of which the individual himself is a part of. With climate change being a global phenomenon, expansion of group identity (once individual recognition has occurred) and emphasis of positive social norms is not very far.
While all this sounds complicated, it is not. As intellectual beings, humans have the power to understand their world and what is happening in it very clearly; it is only when we become humans, with all our defenses and denials thrown in, that things can be a little complicated. It seems that for most of us, understanding climate change as a subject is easy; but recognizing it as a reality is not.
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