I wouldn’t claim that I help this curve much, but it certainly has the ring of truth:
Do our behaviors really reflect our beliefs? New research suggests that, when it comes to climate change, the answer is no. And that goes for both skeptics and believers.
Participants in a year-long study who doubted the scientific consensus on the issue “opposed policy solutions,” but at the same time, they “were most likely to report engaging in individual-level, pro-environmental behaviors,” writes a research team led by University of Michigan psychologist Michael Hall.
Conversely, those who expressed the greatest belief in, and concern about, the warming environment “were most supportive of government climate policies, but least likely to report individual-level actions.”
This applies to other issues, like charity. Big-government types who want to use tax dollars to solve every problem sometimes behave as if that’s their contribution, so they don’t have to use any of their own money additionally.
The central consideration, here, is probably that concern about an issue is a different thing from agreement with a certain approach to solving the problem (especially in the balance of other issues), and “conservatives” tend to be more comfortable with this distinction. The lesson of the above findings may not be that self-identified environmentalists are more likely to be hypocrites, but that people who are willing to take individual action are more likely to see that as a solution.
I do think, though, that there’s something to the idea of “moral licensing”:
Previous research has found doing something altruistic—even buying organic foods—gives us license to engage in selfish activity. We’ve “earned” points in our own mind. So if you’ve pledged some money to Greenpeace, you feel entitled to enjoying the convenience of a plastic bag.
(Via Eric Worrall.)