The climate movement must go beyond preaching economics and explaining science, we must create a moral imperative that compels us to act. To get people involved in the war on climate change we must weave environmental awareness into our codes of conduct.
The reasons why more people are not demanding action on the environment is aglaring moral failing. If we are to see a critical mass of support for efforts to combat climate change, we must understand that in addition to an economic and ecological crisis, we are also facing a moral crisis. To bridge the gulf betweenmorality and climate change we need to go to the places where morality still has value.
Religions are a primary source of ethical conduct, and as such they are an ideal platform for communicating a moral argument. Although governments andbusinesses have a central role, churches, temples, mosques, synagogues and otherplaces of worship may be the best venues for disseminating the moral dimensionof the climate change issue. We need to tap into the deeply embeddedpreexisting morality of the vast majority of people who consider themselvesfollowers of religion. (Even those who do not subscribe to religion also respondto moral arguments about the need for action on climate change).
Religious leaders from all the major traditions see action on climate changeas a moral imperative. As reviewed in an extensive list of Climate Change Statements, all of the world’s major religioustraditions espouse a harmonious relationship between people and the planet.
One group called Interfaith Moral Action on Climate is a collaborativeinitiative of religious leaders and groups that are promoting a moral call toaction on climate change. This group feels compelled by their “traditions andcollective conscience to take action on this deeply moral challenge. [They]believe that a moral voice is essential in inspiring action on climate change,since scientific and economic arguments alone have not moved the United Statesto adequately address this deepening crisis.”
Interfaith is calling for policies that dramatically reduce wasted energy,support renewable energy and phase-out all fossil fuel subsidies. Despite theradical change they advocate, their message is positive. They seek a “brightervision” to unite the world around “a set of clear widely held moralprinciples.”
Their third guiding moral principle is to protect the Earth, they reiteratethe aboriginal beliefs that we have a moral obligation to be good stewards ofthe Earth and all of its creatures and processes. Interfaith’s vision advocatesa moral response to climate change while acknowledging scientific research.
They have circulated their Interfaith Declaration on Climate Change, and an Interfaith Statement on Climate Changewas submitted by representatives of the world’s religions at the COP17 inDurban, South Africa.
“We recognize that climate change is not merely an economic or technicalproblem, but rather at its core is a moral, spiritual and cultural one. Wetherefore pledge to join together to teach and guide the people who follow thecall of our faiths.”
In an article titled “Rekindling the Moral Call to Action,” climate change is construed as a “fundamental moral and humanitarian issue.” The article urgesaction from leaders and works towards a unified effort to combat climatechange.
On July 23rd, 2012, there was a phone conference briefing on “How to Communicate about Climate Action as a Moral Imperative.” The event wasco-hosted by Climate Access, US Climate Action Network, Interfaith Moral Actionon Climate Change, and the National Climate Ethics. The speakers indicated thatwe need to create a moral movement that urges people to take personalresponsibility and choose sides on the issue of climate change.
Even AmericanEvangelical Christian Leaders have clearly articulated a moral argument forsupporting action on anthropogenic climate change. They state that theirChristian moral convictions demand their response to climate change. They go onto advocate national legislation in the U.S., requiring emissions reductionsthrough market based mechanisms like cap-and-trade.
As reviewed in a Guardian article, NASA scientist Jim Hansen calls climatechange a moral issue on a par with slavery. He is calling for a global carbontax and sees inaction on climate change as an “injustice of one generation toothers”.
Morality is also the key issue in an article titled Why Few Americans View Climate Change as a Moral Problem byEzra Markowitz. He is a doctoral candidate in Environmental Sciences atthe University of Oregon and a research fellow with the Climate Shift Project atAmerican. In a 2012 publication Markowitz points to an absence of strong moral intuitions on climate change.
Markowitz and his colleague Azim Shariff have publishedresearch on the moral psychology of the public (dis)engagement with climatechange. Their new paper in Nature Climate Change is called “Climate change and moral judgment.” In the paper,Markowitz and Shariff explore six reasons why climate change is not a morecommon moral issue and six strategies that may help to compel us to act.
According to these researchers, the human moral judgment system fails toacknowledge climate change because: Climate change is complex, distant andabstract; it represents an untraditional type of moral transgression where it issometimes hard to attribute blame; people have an aversion to guilt; they seethe future as uncertain and they fail to identify with victims of climatechange. Finally, concerns about climate change are not at present core moralvalues.
To help people engage efforts to combat climate change, the authors recommendthat we use existing moral values. They go on to suggest that we should focus oncommunicating the problems that climate change will wreak upon futuregenerations, rather than on the potential benefits. The idea here is that it iscounterproductive to focus on “extrinsic motivators” for action on climatechange (i.e. economic growth and jobs). According to the researchers, it weakensmoral engagement by deemphasizing intrinsic values and non-materialistmotives.
The research indicates that it is more productive to use messaging thatgenerates positive emotions (eg: hope, pride and gratitude), rather thannegative emotions (eg: guilt, shame and anxiety). The study reports that we needto expand our group identity, incorporate shared goals, and finally, we need tohighlight positive social norms where pro-environmental action is lauded.
“The point I want to drive home is this: truly engaging with climate changeas a moral issue—really feeling its moral significance viscerally—is no easyfeat” Markowitz said, “regardless of how often we hear about the people andanimals that will be harmed or the injustice of richer individuals and nationsmisappropriating a life-sustaining, common resource.”
We will need to be creative and develop evidence-based approaches that helppeople to understand climate change as a moral imperative. Despite the subtlepsychological nuances needed to effectively communicate the point, the moralargument is capable of unleashing unprecedented activity.
Source: Global Warming is Real
Crafting a Positive Environmental Narrative
Pessimism is Impeding Environmental Advocacy
Building Support for Action on Climate Change Before We Reach Tipping Points
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