Study: Greens Think They Have a 'Moral License' to Pollute

A research team at the University of Michigan conducted a remarkable study that shows climate skeptics are more eco-friendly than greens.

We conducted a one-year longitudinal study in which 600 American adults regularly reported their climate change beliefs, pro-environmental behavior, and other climate-change related measures. Using latent class analyses, we uncovered three clusters of Americans with distinct climate belief trajectories: (1) the “Skeptical,” who believed least in climate change; (2) the “Cautiously Worried,” who had moderate beliefs in climate change; and (3) the “Highly Concerned,” who had the strongest beliefs and concern about climate change. Cluster membership predicted different outcomes: the “Highly Concerned” were most supportive of government climate policies, but least likely to report individual-level actions, whereas the “Skeptical” opposed policy solutions but were most likely to report engaging in individual-level pro-environmental behaviors. Implications for theory and practice are discussed.

Eric Worrall of Watts Up With That:

Academics competing to see who can log the most air miles, Jetset hypocrites calling for “deniers” to be banned from public office, large climate conferences full of frequent fliers; the brazen climate hypocrisy of leading greens is nothing new to regular readers of WUWT.

But this study goes a step further – it is not just the leaders who are complete hypocrites. The leaders of the green movement are not duping followers with their hypocrisy, they are an expression of the top to bottom hypocrisy of their entire movement.The most vocal climate supporters are actually the people who care least about the planet – all those noisy expressions of concern are camouflage to conceal the fact they are deeply selfish people who can’t be bothered to make a personal effort to improve the world they claim to love.

I pick up trash outside my house – because I like having a nice house, I like living on a nice street. I don’t think it is someone elses job to make my little corner of the world a better place. If I thought CO2 was a problem I would make a personal effort to reduce my carbon footprint.

Perhaps that sense of personal ownership, of responsibility for one’s actions, is what is missing from the green movement – a point made by the authors of the study.

And Tom Jacobs of Pacific Standard magazine goes into some of the reasons for this disconnect:

Hall and his colleagues can only speculate about the reasons for their results. But regarding the concerned but inactive, the psychological phenomenon known as moral licensing is a likely culprit.

Previous research has found doing something altruistic—even buying organic foods—gives us license to engage in selfish activity. We’ve “earned” points in our own mind. So if you’ve pledged some money to Greenpeace, you feel entitled to enjoying the convenience of a plastic bag.

Regarding climate change skeptics, remember that conservatism prizes individual action over collective efforts. So while they may assert disbelief in order to stave off coercive (in their view) actions by the government, many could take pride in doing what they can do on a personal basis.

This "moral license" to pollute goes hand in hand with a towering moral egoism that justifies trying to destroy people who disagree with them by claiming to be right and their enemies wrong. Anything is OK as long as it protects the planet. And if one's carbon footprint is a little too deep, it's a small price to pay in service to the cause.

Taking personal responsibility for the environment -- at least, your small corner of it -- is a profoundly conservative idea. It's too bad government will never adopt policies that reflect this idea because it would result in more sensible management of the planet's environment.