Archive for December, 2012

Vechey’s Moral Foundational Theory of Climate Change Conversation

As I struggle with how to open up the climate change conversation to more people, I keep coming back to one of the most personally influential books I’ve read –  The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt. It is a book elaborating on his Moral Foundations theory. Here’s a quick oversimplification if you’re too busy to read that link (but seriously, my paraphrasing isn’t as good as theirs, so go read it:

Moral Foundations Theory is that there are several key moral foundations of intuitive morality. Everyone has varying innate sensitivity to each of the moral foundations, with groups and cultures emphasizing different foundations as well as the realizing the same foundations in different ways. They foundations are:

1) Care/harm: An ability to feel (and dislike) the pain of others.
2) Fairness/cheating: Concern about proportionality of fairness, that is we all need to shoulder an equal burden in our society.
3) Liberty/oppression: Moral attraction to freedom, specifically against those who would dominate / restrict our liberty.
4) Loyalty/betrayal: Ability to feel and act loyaly to a person or group
5) Authority/subversion: A deference to legitimate authority and appreciation for tradition
6) Sanctity/degradation: The feeling that your body or institutions are sacred

The reason I go back to Haidt’s moral foundation thoery when thinking about climate change is that the results of exploring his theory is how different groups experience the moral foundations. He found that American liberals experience very strongly Care/Harm, and to a lesser extent Fairness/Cheating and Liberty/Oppression. American conservatives, generally, have more attuned “moral tastebuds” across the spectrum in a more balanced way.

How can this be useful for the climate change discussion?

For one, humans are emotional. Science, by definition, not so much. The science showing man-made climate change is here and has only gotten stronger since the first projects starting linking man’s actions to global climate change, but people are obviously not hearing it. Yes, the solution is complicated and yes it will require us to change, but I think the problem is that the scientists and climate hawks aren’t speaking the right moral language.

My theory is that if we start speaking a language that more people respond to, then more people will be able to hear the message, understand the message, and then share the message. I’m still unsure how to test this theory out, but that’s my theory I’ll be working on for awhile. Comment if you have any thoughts on how to approach proving this theory one way or another.


Problem with Climate Hawks

Climate change has a PR problem. It’s true. The spokespeople for climate change often feel like they’re preaching to the choir, or in a language few understand. While Bill McKibben’s writing is great, he’s still writing for a pretty intelectual audience about some pretty heavy science. Al Gore has been most successful at opening up the discussion from the movie An Inconvenient Truth, which was a call to action in lecture format. While it did well for a documentary, calling an issue as complex as climate change a moral imperative isn’t exactly actionable mass-market material (especially from a left wing politician).

This is where I come in. I’ve spent my whole career trying to make something for a niche audience and take it mass market. When we started PopCap, video games pretty much fell into the 15-24 year old male demographic. Sure, Nintendo skewed a bit younger, but for the most part, gaming was for 15% of the population. Thanks to innovations on the Internet and the advent of new platforms, we helped lead the wave of gaming for the masses. Twelve years later, most everyone plays games whether on Facebook, the web, or on your phone.

We didn’t succeed by making pandering games. We took game concepts that we loved and spent a whole lot of effort, energy and craft to make that fun accessible for everyone, even if the player had never played any games before. That’s what climate hawks need to figure out. Their message is good. The content is there. It’s just completely inaccessible, and as I’ve learned in games, something inaccessible is pretty much by definition unappealing.



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