Wrapped in Lew Papers: The psychology of climate psychologization – Part2

The icon of GST became not just an inspiration for an isolated culture of climate change, but also for the worldviews that have become so aligned and dependent on catastrophic climate change as their cultural engine for this era. ‘The pause’ has threatened those worldviews. If for instance in the recent past, ‘one felt deep satisfaction that the climate itself was apparently voting for the governmental systems one always hankered for’, then right now one might feel rather ‘betrayed’ by the climate. An emotive state. Yet given one can’t really blame an inanimate climate, then ‘deniers’ might form a useful scapegoat on which to project blame instead. With GST starting to fall out of the bottom of model projections, the more formal pillar of support for aligned worldviews, i.e. the models themselves, are also threatened. Hence all that is ‘good to do’, which aligned politicians proposed upon the basis of that foundational pillar, is also now threatened. Of course as we noted above regarding Hedegaard’s quote, what is ‘good to do’ becomes subjective once one’s supposedly rock-solid factual base turns out to be soggy marshland.

The level of emotional entanglement for some in the Consensus is such that they don’t welcome the news implicit in those simple colored lines, i.e. that in addition to some delay of catastrophe, a lower climate sensitivity is more likely, meaning that perhaps ‘catastrophic’ may one day fall off the agenda anyhow. This can only be good news for human-kind, and indeed to the extent that some skeptics may feel elation at ‘the pause’, which once again is an emotional response that will trigger their own bias. And for some skeptics that trigger is itself rather less noble; whether permanent or temporary, victory over an opponent is another powerful emotive driver which is hard to set aside. Post 3 looks briefly at the relative scale of total effects for the Consensus versus the skeptics; however it is not hard to see that the vast cultural engine of CAGW, with its huge tracts of policy and employment and social alignment and governmental support and enormous academic backing plus PR from thousands of major organizations and outlets, dwarves whatever is happening in the skeptic domain, whether in emotive messaging or pretty much anything else. Even since official recognition of ‘the pause’, the scattered skeptic voice only rarely breaks through to a level that will likely have some effect on the public consciousness.

In case too much skeptic influence has crept into this section, then just as we sampled Consensus sources regarding worldviews above, we should look at what the Consensus itself thinks about the importance of emotive drivers across the full social range of Global Warming / climate change. Fortunately there is a recent study investigating this: The Role of Emotion in Global Warming Policy Support and Opposition, by Nicholas Smith and Anthony Leiserowitz (S&L2014), published in Risk Analysis, Vol. 34, No. 5, 2014. First its Consensus credentials, from the opening lines:
∙∙∙∙∙∙Global warming is one of the world’s most pressing problems. Unabated emissions of anthropogenic greenhouse gases, primarily from the burning of fossil fuels, are likely to have irreversible consequences. Substantial reductions in these emissions are therefore required if “dangerous” anthropogenic impacts are to be minimized, as recognized by international law.” [Hat Tip WUWT].

Okay so I think we’ve established those pretty easily. A paper with any skeptic leanings would highlight scientific uncertainty and hence the debate about how pressing the problem actually is, rather than assume ‘one of the world’s most pressing problems’ from the off. Dangerous is presumably in quotes as a direct copy from their sources. The reference given for the first sentence is the IPCC 2007, and for ‘international law’ is the Rio de Janeiro climate conference of 1992, from which came the Kyoto protocol (though the US did not ratify this and Canada pulled out in 2011).

Before we look at the abstract, please note that the word ‘affect’ has a (debated) particular meaning in psychology. Precise definitions vary, here are three out of many: ‘the observable expression of emotion’, ‘the conscious experience of emotion’, ‘the manifestation of emotion or mood’. ‘Affect’ is considered positive when the emotions or moods experienced are pleasant (e.g. joy or elation) and negative when these are unpleasant (e.g. anger or guilt). S&L2014 considers ‘affect’ to be a generic positive or negative emotive feeling, in contrast to any of the specific emotions which may have caused that generic feeling (e.g. joy or hope, or guilt or fear). Here is the abstract:
∙∙∙∙∙∙Prior research has found that affect and affective imagery strongly influence public support for global warming. This article extends this literature by exploring the separate influence of discrete emotions. Utilizing a nationally representative survey in the United States, this study found that discrete emotions were stronger predictors of global warming policy support than cultural worldviews, negative affect, image associations, or sociodemographic variables. In particular, worry, interest, and hope were strongly associated with increased policy support. The results contribute to experiential theories of risk information processing and suggest that discrete emotions play a significant role in public support for climate change policy. Implications for climate change communication are also discussed.’

In starting off by stating the ‘most pressing problem’, then straight after this reflecting upon the consistent decline of public concern about global warming internationally (various polls are quoted), S&L2014 sets a context for the focus thereafter. This focus is to analyze specific emotive drivers in the climate change domain with respect to which ones garner most support, or opposition, for policies to fight anthropogenic climate change. In closing, the paper uses this information for recommendations on how best to modify climate communication in order to increase support for the above policies; this appears to be the goal of the whole exercise (Smith and Leiserowitz are both part of the Yale Project on Climate Communication, YPCC). As the abstract notes, S&L2014 finds certain specific emotions to be even more important factors than worldviews or socio-demographics regarding whether individuals support climate change policies. And while it is new to me that ‘interest’ is an emotion (will have to think about that), two of the three specific emotions quoted, i.e. interest and hope, are positive ones. These findings verify both the big influence of emotion across the entire social landscape of climate change, i.e. regarding the Consensus as much as the skeptics, and also as noted in the first post, that positive emotions are just as important as negative ones. Hope for instance may be generated by a belief that the policies can really work. And via the interaction of worldview and emotion it is much more likely that those who also approve of the policies for their own sake (aligned to worldview), are actually going to end up hopeful in this regard.

Along the way, S&L2014 also verifies some factors that will hardly be a surprise to skeptics, for instance that the specific emotion disgust is associated with opposition to climate change policies:
∙∙∙∙∙∙Disgust was associated with opposition to climate and energy policies, likely reflecting the emotional response of the respondents most dismissive of the issue.
And that overall it is disadvantageous (from the Consensus PoV) to deploy appeals that utilize fear:
∙∙∙∙∙∙Worry, in particular, was the single strongest predictor. That is, the more respondents worried about global warming, the more likely they were to support national climate and energy policies. Interestingly, however, fear was not associated with increased policy support… …This finding has important implications for climate change educators and communicators. Fear appeals have often been used under the assumption that scaring the public about climate change will engage them in the issue, motivate individual action, and generate public support for broad policy change, but recent research demonstrates that fear appeals are often ineffective or even counterproductive. “Dire” fear-based messaging around extreme weather and other climate phenomena has been found to raise anxieties, but also to distance the public. O’Neill and Nicholson-Cole found that catastrophic and alarmist visual imagery actually decreased public engagement with the issue.’ [reference numbers clipped, see original paper for the full references].
There seems to be broad agreement about the latter in the Consensus lately (e.g. see The Breathrough article), although this hasn’t translated into an end of fear-mongering (it’s out of scope here, but there’s a memetic explanation for that).

The survey via which all of these conclusions were reached is essentially a ‘snapshot’ of the current emotional vectors of the (US) population with respect to climate change issues, i.e. how folks would react now. The paper doesn’t directly address the longer term evolution of those vectors via constant emotional pressure, nor assess the level of that pressure (i.e. the amount of emotive messaging out there). Regarding the latter however, the fact that there is and has been a high degree of emotive messaging is indirectly confirmed by S&L2014 at various places, generally in the context of Consensus messaging, not skeptic messaging. For instance, the above quote mentions that ‘fear appeals have often been used’[i.e. by the Consensus]. And the quote below confirms a long-term deployment of positive emotive messaging:
∙∙∙∙∙∙In another study, Hoijer examined how the Swedish media communicated emotions in the social construction of global warming risk and found that hope and compassion were used as emotional anchors to help people understand projected climate impacts. These results suggest that many people do not view hazards merely as something to avoid. On the contrary, interest and hope may motivate people to learn more about the hazard and to take or support mitigation or adaptation measures.

Next page for more…

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