In a New York Times piece earlier this week, columnist Thomas Edsall interviewed conservative scholars to ask what they thought the left got “right”. (An earlier piece asked liberals what the right got right.) A common theme was that liberals were more likely to be correct about climate change. “Liberals do not dismiss or treat as ideologically motivated scientific findings, especially… that human beings contribute significantly to climate change.” When it comes to global warming, “Liberals are firmly on the side of science.” “[Liberals] are less likely to pretend that scientific questions — is the planet getting warmer, for example… are really ideological questions.”
I found this really interesting. There are plenty of data that show that people on the left of the political spectrum are more likely to believe that climate change is occurring, and people on the right more likely to deny it. (See the Yale project on climate change communication, for example.) But these interviews suggest that some on the right recognize this as a problem. That is, although some people’s attitudes about climate change are determined by ideology, other people’s are determined by the facts.
I’m a psychologist, and I know that facts alone are not enough to convince everyone. Nor are attitudes enough to determine behavior. But there are other ways to transcend ideology. Some people behave in more environmentally sustainable ways in order to save money; others just love nature and want to protect it. (Neither of these attitudes is restricted to liberals.) A recent paper by Markowitz and Bowerman (in Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy, 2012) found that a large majority of Americans, of all ages, genders, and political orientations, thought that the country would be better off if we all consumed less.
Policies designed to protect the environment are often hijacked by the political process. But sustainability is a value that should transcend ideology. On this issue, our shared concerns are more significant than a difference in political opinion.