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Study: Skeptics are more environmental — believers do less but want government to solve it instead

Ain’t that the way? When it comes to taking individual action, skeptics are more environmental than the people who call themselves “environmental”.

A new psych study shows that skeptics are more likely to use cloth shopping bags, catch public transport and buy eco-friendly items. Hall et al somehow got 600 people to fill in a survey up to seven times in one year about their belief in “climate change” and their self-reported action. They found there are three types of people: the “highly concerned” about climate change, the “cautiously worried” and the “skeptical”. The “highly convinced” believers may tell the world we have to act, but they were more likely to use plastic bags themselves and drive their car. They were more likely to want government policies to magically solve the problem. Skeptics meanwhile, were more passionately against government meddling than any group was on any issue. It was the single most definitive score.

Hall et al, 2018, Graph, environmental behaviour, skeptics.

Skeptics (blue) were more likely to reuse shopping bags, buy eco-friendly things, and catch the bus and train. The highly concerned (red) were more likely to recycle goods and otherwise support government action.


Researchers were pretty much baffled by their results and admitted as much. But most of their confusion, as usual, starts with their assumptions. Firstly, they assume that there is some connection between our global climate and plastic bags — as if people really believe that by using a cloth bag or buying organic tomatoes that they will cool the planet. If we surveyed the reasons people use cloth bags, its probably to reduce plastic in landfill and to stop dolphins getting strangled. Nobody thinks a cloth bag will slow storms and reduce droughts.

The researchers didn’t stand a chance: set up to fail with their choice of words.  “Climate change” and “pollution” are muddy ambiguous terms that mean different things to different people. Language is the main investigative tool we have — but it’s been blunted to mush by spinmeisters. No great gems of truth will be found while mining rocks with ripe bananas.

What the study shows is that skeptics are more diligent and conscientious about reducing their own environmental footprint.

Are skeptics dumb robots or are believers social climbing patsies:

 These results suggest that different groups may prefer different strategies for addressing climate change.

You don’t say.

Thus, belief in climate change does not appear to be a necessary or sufficient condition for pro-environmental behavior, indicating that changing skeptical Americans’ minds need not be a top priority for climate policymakers.

In your dreams believer-academics. The biggest message in this study was that skeptics don’t even want climate policymakers, full stop.

It’s as if skeptics are dumb robots behaving to “save the climate” by catching a train, without even believing the climate needs saving. Maybe the deplorables don’t believe in “climate change” but can’t afford the car? Seriously guys.

It would be just as fair to conclude that if what you want to get people on public transport, using cloth shopping bags and buying eco-friendly products, then convert the masses to skeptics.

If anything the study suggests that believers don’t care much about shopping bags and starving whales. Why do they profess belief? It might not be moral licensing, so much as moral vanity — where belonging to the right tribe is more important than “saving the planet”. But in a democracy, if you want voters to support parasitic gravy trains and inefficient subsidies, you still need to persuade the voters that these things are worth doing.

The alternative — the dishonest Turnbull approach is to hide the carbon trading schemes within meaningless names like “the Safeguard Mechanism” or the National Energy Guarantee. Works for a while, but the public is waking up. So far he has lost 14 seats at the last election and 30 newspolls since.

As for “pro-environmental behaviour” — Hall et al equate catching a bus with supporting a wind farm as if people have a pro-environment button that activates everything Hall and Lewis think of as being “pro-environment”. Instead people pick and choose each action separately.

 Tick the Stereotype – believers are young, white and naive

The old and wise don’t believe everything they read. Believers do:

Overall, participants who belonged to belief clusters that endorsed the existence of climate change and expressed concern were more likely to: be young; White/Caucasian; see climate change as anthropogenic; perceive climate change as harmful to humans around the world, soon; and be trusting of scientific and media communications about climate science.

The Skeptics got more skeptical

Interestingly, after repeated surveys, the worriers kept worrying at a constant level, but skeptics got more skeptical.

Hall, 2018, Psychology, Climate Change, belief, skeptics. Graph.


Could it be that the act of repeatedly asking people about their skeptical views helped to solidify their opinion? The skeptical group is the only group that doesn’t get to discuss their opinion in politically correct society. Possibly the more they thought about it, the more sure they became.

Researchers are baffled:

Despite these findings about climate change beliefs, self reported behaviors, and policy support, we were unable to explain why the “Skeptical” low-believers  were more likely to self report more pro-environmental behavior than high-believers. For instance, the “Skeptical” did not report greater identity fit with  environmentalism, did not endorse greater beliefs in individual and political efficacy to reduce climate change, and were not associated with logical  demographic factors (e.g., political ideology, income, education). One possibility is that our findings generalize only to Americans on MTurk who tend to lean  to the political left. Although we cannot rule out this possibility until this study is replicated with other samples, the current sample contained enough conservatives to test for ideology effects; furthermore, other research has documented that conservatives on MTurk are dispositionally similar to conservatives in well-respected nationally representative samples (e.g., American National Election Study; Clifford, Jewell, & Waggoner, 2015). However, it is also possible  that we did not measure partisanship or ideology with enough granularity to detect nuanced differences in climate change beliefs. Indeed, research published  after we collected our data found that “Tea Party” Republicans have the most distinct environmental views (Hamilton & Saito, 2015), whereas conventional  Democratic/ Republican divides (our measure of partisanship) do not sufficiently capture diverse environmental views in the U.S …

Perhaps our “Skeptical” participants had more libertarian leanings, leading them to report engaging in individual level behavior over endorsing federal government climate change policies. Or, the “Skeptical” might have been motivated to report behaving pro-environmentally for other reasons that they did not associate with climate change, such as reducing pollution or waste accumulation. Other possibilities for these results involve the “Highly Concerned”: Perhaps they engaged in moral licensing (Merritt, Effron, & Monin, 2010), whereby their concern about climate change psychologically liberated them from engaging in (and reporting) pro-environmental behavior. Or, perhaps the “Highly Concerned” felt that federal policies were the more effective means of addressing climate change (vs. individual pro-environmental behaviors).

Hall makes a careless but important error in the first line of the introduction:

Although 97 percent of scientists believe in anthropogenic climate change (Cook et al., 2013), not all Americans agree;
depending on the study, only 54–65% of Americans believe in climate change (Hornsey, Harris, Bain, & Fielding, 2016;
Leiserowitz, Maibach, Roser-Renouf, & Hmielowski, 2012; Saad, 2017a).

There is a big difference between 97% of all scientists and 97% of a micro niche subset called “climate scientists”. Hall and Lewis don’t realize that there is no mismatch between scientists and the public — almost half  of meteorologists (2013) (half of meteorologists in 2017) — fergoodnesssake — are skeptics, survey after survey shows that two-thirds of geoscientists and engineers are skeptics, and most readers of skeptical blogs (who chose to respond to surveys and list their qualifications in  comments^) have hard science degrees.

The table with errors and what not (click)

Hall, 2018, Table 1. Psychology research, climate change opinions.

Click to enlarge and see more.


h/t GWPF and thanks to Lance especially in the US.


Hall and Lewis (2018) Believing in climate change, but not behaving sustainably: Evidence from a one-year longitudinal study, Journal of Environmental Psychology, Vol 56, p 55-62, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jenvp.2018.03.001

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