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.