Look back, not forward, to connect with conservatives

The scientists theorize that “future framing” may contribute to conservative cynicism, especially “when year after year, we don’t seem to get that close to death,” Baldwin said. “Conservatives might become rather skeptical of the science that led us to the conclusion that we are in trouble. Perhaps focusing on the possible negative future doesn’t drive home the fact that our Earth really has changed a lot.”

This strategy might also counter the argument often invoked by conservatives that today’s global warming is just another example of natural climate variations that have occurred historically. …

In one of the study’s experiments, “We show people pictures of environmental change — for example, an image of a lake full of water, right next to an image of that same lake totally dried up,” he said. “Conservatives really respond to these images of drastic change from the more ‘perfect’ past. I can imagine doing something similar with extreme weather events as the focus. Following a large hurricane, for example, we could focus on how the planet in the past did not experience such events, and then create a contrast by saying something like, ‘Shouldn’t we work hard to return to a state of the planet where we don’t have to experience them anymore?’

“The framing should call for a return to the more desirable past, compared to an avoidance of the less desirable future,” Baldwin said

Interestingly, researchers found that past framing did not diminish liberals’ pro-environmental attitudes. “We are still working on figuring out why this is,” he said. “The past is inherently valuable to conservatives, and the future — at least one marked by drastic and progressive change — is inherently bad. But liberalism doesn’t seem to place any inherent value on the past or future. The focus is instead on ideals like egalitarianism, fairness, and justice. So liberals in our studies seemed to be pro-environmental no matter what frame we used.”

Have we been talking about climate change all wrong?