I recently let Earth Day pass without notice, not because I don’t like the Earth (it’s one of my favorite tourist destinations), but because I’m usually too busy doing things like going out into the woods to hunt and fish to get in my SUV and drive to a big Earth Day event at some electric-powered convention center along with thousands of other people to celebrate the environment by leaving behind tons of litter. If you think I’m suggesting that conservatives who are skeptical of outspoken environmentalists are more Earth-friendly than outspoken environmentalists, well…yes. Yes, I am. And now, the science is settled!
A year-long study by University of Michigan psychologist Michael Hall found that people who are skeptical of climate change claims and opposed to government policy to affect the climate are actually the most likely to engage in eco-friendly individual actions, such as recycling, buying "green" products, and using public transportation and reusable shopping bags. On the other hand, those who believe most strongly in manmade climate change and government action to combat it are the least likely to do anything personally to help the environment.
The researchers aren’t sure why, but they theorize that conservatives believe in individual responsibility (and the root of their name is “conservation”), while virtue-signaling environmentalists are exhibiting what psychologists call “moral licensing.” They think that speaking out about the issue and calling for the government to do something about it buys them moral brownie points that give them license not to do anything themselves. Sort of like how lecturing everyone else to live in trees buys you the moral authority to travel to eco-conferences at five-star resorts on private jets and live in a big, energy-sucking mansion on the coast.
This isn’t really as surprising as it seems. It’s of a piece with the general dichotomy between conservatives and liberals, as seen in studies that show that liberals demand that the government raise the minimum wage while conservatives tip better; or that liberals demand more government programs to help the poor while conservatives give far more of their own money to charity. Putting your own money and effort into a pet cause is hard. Demanding that somebody else’s money be spent on your pet cause is easy. But I’ll say this for the latter: it obviously results in a very strong sense of self-satisfaction.
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