Research from Journal of Environmental Psychology throws a wrench in the eco-narrative, at least on an individual level.
A year-long study found that people who believe the scientific consensus about climate change may support macro-policy solutions on saving the environment, but are less likely to engage in small, individual eco-friendly actions like recycling and buying “green” products than climate change deniers. Conversely, people who are skeptical of climate change oppose sweeping government policy changes around things like fuel standards and green energy initiatives, but are more likely to report individual-level actions.
In other words, there’s a curious disconnect between belief and action on both sides of the equation.
The study broke participants down into three groups: “skeptical,” “cautiously worried” and “highly concerned.” Across the board, the groups’ policy preferences lined up with their beliefs, but their actions did not. Those in the “skeptical” category were more likely to use reusable shopping bags, public transportation and green products than either of the other two groups.
The study didn’t get into the whys of all this, so we can only speculate. The Pacific Standard suggests it may have something to do with something psychologists call “moral licensing,” in which doing something good earns you credit to do something selfish. For example, a climate change believer might donate money to save the whales, so they feel justified in driving an SUV.
It’s worth noting that conservation experts have long urged public policy over individual level actions in the fight against climate change. The corporate actions negatively affecting the environment are so big that individual actions like using a reusable shopping bag scarcely make a dent, however laudable the instinct may be.
But it’s still an interesting study that provides more proof, as if we needed it, that our thoughts and actions aren’t nearly as in sync as we tend to believe.