Last month the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication released its “Faith, Morality and the Environment: Portraits of Global Warming’s Six Americas” report, which explores Americans’ receptivity to a moral framing around the issue of climate change. As the report highlights, there has been an evolution in public discourse on climate change in recent months. Traditionally referred to as a scientific, environmental or political issue, climate change is now being cited as a moral and spiritual issue by religious leaders.
According to the Yale Project, “Americans are now hearing – often for the first time – that global warming will have severe impacts on the world’s poor; that it violates divine dictates on the treatment of nature; and that it requires a concerted response from all nations in the name of social justice…” The new report assesses the religious and spiritual values and beliefs of ‘Global Warming’s Six Americas,’ six groups within the American public with very different views on global warming. (The six groups include the “alarmed, concerned, cautious, disengaged, doubtful and dismissive.”) Of note is that a moral framing of climate change may resonate with people previously not concerned about the issue.
According to the report, “A moral framing of global warming is new to most people in the U.S. In the spring of 2015, only 10 percent of Americans viewed global warming as a religious issue; 13 percent thought it was a spiritual issue, and just over a third (36%) thought it was a moral issue. Threequarters, by contrast, saw it as an environmental issue (76%). If a moral framing resonates with values people already hold dear – protecting future generations, for example – it may shift people’s perceptions of the meaning and importance of the threat posed by climate change.”
We at the NW Earth Institute were particularly struck by the role that empathy plays in how the ‘six Americas’ relate to climate change. The report highlights that the ‘doubtful’ group report the lowest empathy for others of the six groups, and the ‘alarmed’ report the highest. It reminded us of one of our previous blog posts on how empathy may indeed be a critical link to our survival. The Yale Report carries with it a reminder to those of us engaged in protecting our environment: remember the primacy of how moral and spiritual underpinings, and the capacity for empathy, directly inform our beliefs and subsequent actions.
*To read the whole report and for more information, click here. To engage deeply with your friends, family, co-workers or community via thought-provoking dialogue, organize NW Earth Institute’s newest discussion course on climate: Change Is Our Choice: Creating Climate Solutions.