Reaching Out to Conservatives

Via UC Berekeley:

A UC Berkeley study has found that while people who identified themselves as conservatives tend to be less concerned about the environment than their liberal counterparts, their motivation increased significantly when they read articles that stressed the need to “protect the purity of the environment” and were shown such repellant images as a person drinking dirty water, a forest filled with garbage, and a city under a cloud of smog.

Published today (Dec. 10)  in the online issue of the journalPsychological Science, the findings indicate that reframing pro-environmental rhetoric according to values that resonate strongly with conservatives can reduce partisan polarization on ecological matters.

“These findings offer the prospect of pro-environmental persuasion across party lines,” said Robb Willer, a UC Berkeley social psychologist and coauthor of the study. “Reaching out to conservatives in a respectful and persuasive way is critical, because large numbers of Americans will need to support significant environment reforms if we are going to deal effectively with climate change, in particular.”

I absolutely agree with this. I am tired of people trying to “win” the climate debate with a 51% majority. That will not work. A social consensus is necessary.

When people say “climate is a winning issue for Democrats” I find that totally unreassuring. That’s really the wrong way for society to be going, whether Democrats win or not. I wonder if we don’t need more leftist climate naysayers for the right to hate, so we can properly depolarize this issue.



  1. A 51% majority is all you need if you can keep it and if your opponents don't want to go through all the trouble of a filibuster.

    Those are pretty big ifs. Not ones I am willing to bet the planet on. It is surprising how many people arguing for a solution to a long term problem spend most of their time thinking about short term solutions.

    A climate policy that gets overturned when the next guy gets elected is not going to solve anything.

  2. "A climate policy that gets overturned when the next guy gets elected is not going to solve anything."

    Of course, that buttresses Michael's point. If you think about times when long term solutions actually have been implemented (I can't think of any as long as that needed for our current climate and environmental situation), they've always had broad popular support. I'm thinking of the Cold War, the Apollo mission, etc.

    Unfortunately, those who present themselves to the public as conservatives are not thinking people. I've blogged about this (and my embarrassment to be categorized as conservative to the extent that I'm then identified with such people) on many occasions.

    Michael (I think) posted a Marx Brothers scene in which Groucho sings "I don't know what it is or who commenced it, but I'm against it." This is, unfortunately, the level of discourse with so-called conservatives in positions of power. What's needed is a way to reframe the conversation in such a way that these people feel the embarrassment I do for the positions that they hold.

    It's just barely possible that an approach along the lines described in the post might, over time, accomplish this. But due caution had best be applied not to enable the cynical opposition to characterize such an approach as the result of a UC Berkeley study!

  3. Except, Dan, note that it will tend to move the Overton Window. This view underlies much of conservative policy strategy. It implies a somewhat cynical view of progress, which I suspect is why liberals don't seem to like it.

  4. Gail Collins serves a peppy helping of snark. It goes beyond all the abstruse discussions that don't make a dent outside a limited group of highly educated scientifically literate people.

    Honestly, this is a big deal. The Web, which always knows what is really important, is full of it. Panic buying has popped up in Russia. At an antiterrorism summit meeting in San Diego this year, law enforcement officials got to see a demonstration on what to do in the event that Southern California is taken over by zombies.
    These days, if you want to sell something, you add zombies. If you’ve got a supply of pup tents you can’t get rid of, re-label them “zombie survival shelters” and they’ll fly out the door. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been trying to get people interested in emergency readiness by repositioning the advice as “Preparedness 101: Zombie Apocalypse.” ....

    Zombies. Always the life of the party.

    People do love a good apocalypse. ....

    Every week, “Doomsday Preppers” visits folks who are getting ready for a cataclysm — terrorists, earthquakes, the collapse of the Greenland ice sheet, nuclear war.... “Your score is 63 out of 100; you have 10 months’ initial survival time,” they told a guy who was making weapons and growing algae to feed his five children in case of a collapse of the world financial system.

    Scientists at NASA have taken the whole end-of-the-world thing seriously enough to post answers to a list of Frequently Asked Questions .... NASA is sounding a little like Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev of Russia, who told his nation that he didn’t believe in the whole end-of-the-world scare, then added: “At least, not this year.”

    Scientists, if the topic is potential cosmic calamities, think about your bedside manner. When discussing life-extinguishing meteors or planet-eating black holes, never say “highly unlikely.” Remember, you are talking to a nation of people who kept buying Powerball tickets even after the odds passed 1 in 175 million.

  5. In my effort to be brief, I failed to stress that this is about communication. A lot of people think if scientists just explain hard enough and long enough and with enough pizzazz and heartiness the straight facts, people will hear them. I'm all for pizazz, but people are a whole lot more impressed with infotainment than explanation, sadly.

    In lieu of failed html above, this for emphasis, about explaining uncertainty:

    "you are talking to a nation of people who kept buying Powerball tickets even after the odds passed 1 in 175 million."

  6. Pingback: Another Week of GW News, December 16, 2012 – A Few Things Ill Considered

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