Believing in climate change, but not behaving sustainably?

Believing in climate change, but not behaving sustainably: Evidence from a one-year longitudinal study (h/t Thing Finder) appears to be available, at least as a preprint, here (Hall, M.P., Lewis, N. A., Jr., & Ellsworth, P. C. (2018). Journal of Environmental Psychology, 56, 55-62). Abstract:
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 consequences: 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.
(my bold). This has eerie echoes of  Climate chickenhawks (which I re-found via my The Climate Change Hypocrisy Of Jet-Setting Academics?).

They say "Of primary interest was the level of belief in climate change—regardless of cause—over time". This is a problem, as the study runs for only one year. So I'm doubtful that's interesting; more promising is "we found that participants subdivided into three clusters as a function of these belief trajectories". There's a pile of stats there, which obviously I didn't bother wade though, instead I just read their conclusion: Despite these findings about climate change beliefs, self-reported behaviors, and policy support, we were unable to explain why the “Skeptical” low-believers were more likely to self-report more pro-environmental behavior than high-believers. They then go through a list of all the obvious excuses. The one I'd favour - assuming we're far too polite to go for "people are a bunch of hypocrites" - is that "the concerned" are in favour of unified political action, as indeed was discussed in Climate chickenhawks, whereas "the skeptical" as rugged individualists disposed to individual action.

At this point we need to look at the "action" options: public transport, re-usable shopping bags, eco-friendly products. And we observe that all of these would make perfect sense even without a GW problem. So you can perfectly rationally support them, even if you don't "believe in" GW.

Another point that needs clarifying is quite what "believe in" GW might mean. I am perfectly capable of sustaining a clear distinction between believing the science, and the policy options. But long years in the blogosphere convinces me that most people are not. So for most people it is hard to tell whether they really disbelieve the science, or dislike what solutions they think you're going to propose (Rejecting Climate Change: Not Science Denial, but Regulation Phobia?).

TF offers the conclusion: If the effect sizes are material, the implication is obvious. Improve the environment, support skeptics. I doubt that works; the skeptics are there already. How about the opposite: convince "the concerned" that individual action is also worthwhile? All that individual action only gets you so far (though as I said in Cl Chk, more individual action will act as useful signalling), so some kind of collective action is likely necessary. Again as per Reg Phobia, the key to that is the type of solutions you're proposing. As Hayek says, it is possible even for a Hayekian who doesn't believe in central planning to rationally desire some taxation (WMC interpolation: e.g. carbon taxes) if they accept there's a problem.

It's all about vested interests

Related, but not the same, Graham Readfearn, in the Graun points to Relationships among conspiratorial beliefs, conservatism and climate scepticism across nations (Matthew J. Hornsey, Emily A. Harris & Kelly S. Fielding, Nature Climate Change (2018), doi:10.1038/s41558-018-0157-2.) though I wasn't terribly interested in that, more in the Attitude Roots and Jiu Jitsu Persuasion: Understanding and Overcoming the Motivated Rejection of Science. Though it has too much sociology for me, it is perhaps a useful list of proposed explanations for behaviour.


Eating their own, eating their own… by Timmy. concerning (hush yo mouth!) l'affair Schneiderman.


PaulS said...

...as the study runs for only one year. So I'm doubtful that's interesting

IIRC the thing they thought was interesting was that climate change belief was higher in Summer than Winter among their population.

The important phrase you missed out from the paper was "self-reported". By far the largest self-reported skeptic environmental activity was use of eco-friendly products, with the eco-friendly grading of the products also defined by the subjects. I'm very doubtful that people who don't think human activity can cause environmental harm could answer that question in a useful way. I suspect the truth is that most of them consider everything they use non-harmful (and therefore eco-friendly), whereas those accepting of climate change may be more self-critical about their product use.

The public transport question is far more likely to be due to demographic/economic issues than the environment. Probably the skeptics among their population tended to be poorer.

The reusable bags issue is perhaps interesting, though there have been quite a few reports about how reusable bags aren't that environmentally friendly, which may have been picked up more by the "woke" individuals.

All in all, I don't think it's a well-designed study.

William Connolley said...

> higher in Summer than Winter

I noticed that, but thought it not a well-supported conclusion; there could just as easily have been some significant change in general attitudes through politics over such a short period.

> I don't think it's a well-designed study

I too have my doubts; but notice we're having to find excuses. Whereas had it said the reverse, we'd just have nodded and had our world-view confirmed.

PaulS said...

>Whereas had it said the reverse, we'd just have nodded and had our world-view confirmed.

Probably, though I think it's more likely that if it had said the reverse we would never have heard about it all.

Hank Roberts said...

I'd guess the climate-right-thinking folks give replies that emphasize relying on personal choices and individual action while the climate-left-leaning folks report such choices less as they may not believe that anything done by one snowflake can accomplish a blizzard.

wereatheist said...

They were really supposing that reusable bags make a significant difference in someone's carbon footprint?
BTW reusable bags are now enforced by law in Germany. The shops now sell paper bags for 10¢ apiece, which are funny to behold when customers leave with their purchase on rainy days (you got me?), or those super-non-degradable bags for 1€. Lots of them. Littering now looks different :)

izenmeme said...

Atheists self-report moral choices partly in defence against the accusation that without allegiance to a religious belief system they will act badly.
Theists report their allegiance to an organised faith rather than their personal actions because they see that membership as a more important aspect of ensuring good actions than individual choice.

Are ‘sceptics’ claiming credit for individual acts with no operational impact, while ‘warmists’ are promoting effective communal action, but failing to do the virtue signalling ?

Tom said...

The lesson here stems from what Paul Kelly was advocating for years--individual and community actions that are environmentally beneficial, including combating climate change, but not being part of the 'climate crusade,' which turns so many off.

The goal of Kelly's proposal was to accelerate conversion from fossil fuels. My own, somewhat more cynical view is that it would have only a small affect on climate, but could succeed nonetheless by changing the politics. Voting with your pocketbook for green solutions, providing market signals (and plenty of virtue signaling as well) could go a long ways towards creating an environment for more extensive changes as required.

William Connolley said...

I think there is something in that. Small individual actions, although trivial, do act as "virtue signalling". And while it is easy to be contemptuous of VS, and I probably have been myself, there is a reason it exists. As I said in the reffed posts, *merely* talking the talk, even if you truely believe it and truely believe that individual action would only be VS, is nonetheless cheap and likely to be interpreted that way.

Millicent said...

I'm sorry, but "doing the right thing" does not even cross the mind of the typical UK resident. These are people for whom no distance is too short to use the car. It took a 5p bag charge to get them to consider reusing carrier bags.

The "sceptics" are merely more likely to lie (or delude themselves) about being green.

Millicent said...

As for virtue signalling: all I need to do to solve this problem is live a green lifestyle and, by example, get one other person to do the same. The rest is a chain reaction, like nuclear fission. But while adopting a green lifestyle is easy, the truly shameful thing is that the second bit eludes me.

Can it really be that most people do not place any real importance on their own children's futures?

Hank Roberts said...


William Connolley said...

Can't be all bad, it has weasels.