Australian researcher Samantha K Stanley speaks to Down To Earth about her research that showed how social dominance orientation and political ideology play roles in climate change mitigation
People who might know about climate change do not take action to mitigate it owing to their political ideology, says Samantha K Stanley, assistant professor of psychology at University of Canberra, Australia.
She recently conducted a research and found that people, who believe that society should be structured hierarchically with those of a “higher” social status dominating ones with a “lower” social status, are not concerned about the environment.
This highlights the role of Social Dominance Orientation (SDO) in the success or failure of climate change campaigns, said Stanley. Down To Earth spoke to the researcher, here are the excerpts:
Do you have real-life example of people with high SDO displaying low environmentalism?
We don't find many people are at the top of the scale of SDO or ‘pro-inequality’. So we are really talking about people who are apathetic about social inequality and they tend to be more apathetic about environmental issues too.
These individuals might not be as willing to walk to work, don't worry so much about recycling and wouldn't want to pay more for a product that's environmentally friendly.
Is SDO a global phenomenon and can it be found among people of developing and relatively underprivileged nations as well?
SDO exists across nations. The theory of social dominance argues that hierarchies can be found in every society.
For instance, we generally find age hierarchies where older people are given more social power than the young, or gender hierarchies (i.e. patriarchy). People within cultures differ to the extent that they support these hierarchical relations between groups.
However, the strength of the association between SDO and environmentalism differs across nations. Research shows that in nations with better environmental protection, people's relative endorsement of SDO is less strongly tied to their environmental attitudes.
In contrast, in places where environmental protection measures are lacking, individual's ideas about the environment are more strongly informed by their attitudes about these broader social issues.
How can pro-environment policies help appeal to people high in the SDO and those with right-wing ideology?
If we think about what those with a more conservative political ideology tend to value more, we might be able to develop new messages that align with these values. There’s some evidence that conservatives will respond to climate change messages that are based on values they care about, like religion, patriotism, purity or even emphasising how acting on climate change might make for a warmer society in the future.
There’s also some evidence about framing of climate change campaigns. For example, research shows that conservatives are more receptive to environmental messages when they highlight how the environment is worse now than it was in the past.
They don’t respond so well when they’re told about how much worse the environment would get in the future, which is what climate change campaigns typically do.
What can environmental activists and citizens concerned about the environment learn from your study?
Ideology is a substantial barrier to action on environmental issues. When environmental campaigns rely on liberal arguments focused on social equality, they might not appeal to conservatives.
There is some research on framing messages to appeal to conservatives who are more receptive to environmental messages when they highlight how the environment is worse now than it was in the past. They don’t respond so well when they’re told about how much worse the environment would get in the future, which is what climate change campaigns typically do.
There’s also some evidence that conservatives will respond to climate change messages based on values they care about, like religion, patriotism, purity, or even emphasising how acting on climate change might make for a warmer society in the future.
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