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What would it take to make people care more about global warming?

March 4, 2013 - Andrea Johnson
What disgusts you? What do you hold sacred? How much does it bother you when people aren't fair? How outraged are you when your country or the people you know do something that harms others?

These are among the questions people are often asked on the so-called moral foundations quiz that was developed by Jon Haidt. The moral foundations theory asserts that liberals and conservatives place different values on care/harm, fairness/cheating, liberty/oppression, loyalty/betrayal, authority/subversion and sanctity/degradation and can cause their different reactions to different situations.

People from both ends of the political spectrum are probably bothered when something is unfair or hurts someone else, but liberals tend to be bothered a little more by those things. Conservatives are more bothered than liberals are by people who are disloyal, subvert authority or degrade something they find sacred.

When I've taken that test, I tend to score sky-high on care/harm, fairness/cheating AND sanctity/degradation (the latter likely because I am a vegetarian.) You can take a quiz to find out where you stand online at (

What's most interesting to me is the way that scientists and PR people might end up using some of this information to get their message out.

American Enterprise Institute President Arthur C. Brooks had a column on Sunday in the Wall Street Journal suggesting that Republicans ought to focus on making the public believe they care about the poor if they want to have a chance at winning the Presidential election in 2016. Messages of moral purity that resonate with certain hardcore Republican voters appeals to a minority of the electorate while a majority of voters across the political spectrum believe in the importance of caring for the poor and elderly, said Brooks, quoting one of Haidt's books. Only 38 percent of voters last fall believed that Mitt Romney cared about the poor. Brooks suggested that the problem is the way Republicans have framed their message, not necessarily their policies. Perhaps people would be more receptive to the Republican Party's message on Social Security and Medicare reform, for instance, if Republicans argued that the size of those programs and the threat that they will become insolvent actually threatens the social safety net for needy citizens.

Another study last year tested how liberals and conservatives react to environmental messages and found that both groups react equally negatively to pictures of people drinking contaminated water and air pollution. An article last week in Alternet suggested that scientists could appeal to conservatives' moral purity to overcome their resistance to messages about the dangers of global warming.

Once you know that someone is trying to manipulate you through media messages, though, the effect of the message is probably considerably diluted. If, for whatever reason, you don't believe humans have caused global warming, do you think you would be swayed by ugly pictures of garbage strewn over a forest and a giant smoke cloud hovering over a city?

How do you think they should frame a message to get people to care about global warming?


Article Comments



Mar-06-13 3:45 PM

What would it take to make people care more about global warming?

Consistent, unpolitically-motivated science---which I haven't seen yet. So, I'm still not caring.


Mar-05-13 9:58 AM

I'm not a scientist but I have a couple of uncles, both of whom are chemists, who had some skepticism a few years back that global warming could be man-made. I don't think there's much doubt that there has been climate change that is worrisome and that there will need to be adaptations and preparations made for how it will impact weather and crops and various industries. Some environmentally friendly policies are good sense, anyway. Maybe people should stop arguing about what caused it and start figuring out how to adapt to it.


Mar-05-13 9:10 AM

Somehow we have to live like there is no tomorrow and save for rainy days at the same time.


Mar-05-13 7:45 AM

I think most people know it is a natural cycle. Glacial and inter glacial periods have been proven through geology.


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