Climate Action’s Moral Majority

February 28, 2015

The stage is set for massive action on climate change –  a clear majority of Americans now see climate as a moral issue.

Below, a new poll by Reuters shows that two thirds of Americans believe their leaders are “morally obligated” to take action on climate.
Above, Climate Scientist Katharine Hayhoe states the case for  values-based communication when talking about climate – and I’ve interspersed here similar values based arguments from a variety of messengers.
Everything we’ve learned about science communication suggests that merely hearing the facts does not bring people around on the issue of climate change – what is most effective is connecting with people on an emotional level, a values level, as Dr. Hayhoe suggests, above.
Part of what is happening is that the planet itself is, for better or worse, now speaking clearly enough to amplify the message that scientists have been bringing.


A significant majority of Americans say combating climate change is a moral issue that obligates them – and world leaders – to reduce carbon emissions, a Reuters/IPSOS poll has found.

francisdove   The poll of 2,827 Americans was conducted in February to measure the impact of moral language, including interventions by Pope Francis, on the climate change debate. In recent months, the pope has warned about the moral consequences of failing to act on rising global temperatures, which are expected to disproportionately affect the lives of the world’s poor.

The result of the poll suggests that appeals based on ethics could be key to shifting the debate over climate change in the United States, where those demanding action to reduce carbon emissions and those who resist it are often at loggerheads.

Two-thirds of respondents (66 percent) said that world leaders are morally obligated to take action to reduce CO2 emissions. And 72 percent said they were “personally morally obligated” to do what they can in their daily lives to reduce emissions.

“When climate change is viewed through a moral lens it has broader appeal,” said Eric Sapp, executive director of the American Values Network, a grassroots organization that mobilizes faith-based communities on politics and policy issues.

“The climate debate can be very intellectual at times, all about economic systems and science we don’t understand. This makes it about us, our neighbors and about doing the right thing.”


Eden Keeper:

As a progressive Christian, I try to accept people where they are. As an environmentalist, though, I can get rather frustrated with people who use their own faith as a means of rejecting scientific evidence. I still remember a conversation with a seatmate on a plane, for instance, that ended with her claiming – with complete confidence, of course – that “God wouldn’t have put the oil in the ground if he didn’t want us to use it.” Fortunately, that flight was almost over, so I didn’t have to recover from my stunned silence, and argue that God had also created sunlight and wind…

Yep, religion and environmentalism can lead to cognitive dissonance. But not in every case, and not even in every case of conservative Christianity. The creation care movement makes a theological argument for environmentalism that works for many evangelicals, and many other rightward-leaning Christians view these issues through other lenses of their belief system, from national security to economic prosperity. So I wasn’t surprised to see the President of the Christian Coalition, Roberta Coombs, make a case for solar power last week on the organization’s blog.

Her argument combined all of the elements above, but focused particular on the issue of security:

Right now, the United States sends about a billion dollars a day to other countries to pay for what former President George W. Bush called our “addiction to oil.” Much of that money goes to countries that do not share our values. Some of the money goes to regimes that we would consider our enemies. There is evidence some of it ends up in the pockets of terrorists, and even funding our troops’ opponents on the battlefield.

I think she’s right; I also think she doesn’t go nearly far enough on this point. Oil and gas, for instance, must be transported, and create opportunities for enemies on the battlefield to disrupt supply lines. And climate change, a result of our over-dependence on fossil fuels, creates all sorts of security challenges, from migrating populations to conflicts over increasingly scarce resources.


30 Responses to “Climate Action’s Moral Majority”

  1. 1happywoman Says:

    Who are these 72% who feel “‘personally morally obligated’ to do what they can in their daily lives to reduce emissions”??

    I don’t know anybody who intentionally limits the use of their car, home heating and cooling, clothes dryer, or any other fossil-fuel-powered convenience.

    I don’t know anybody who even thinks about not buying new “stuff” because manufacturing uses fossil fuels.

    I don’t know anybody who would consider limiting or avoiding animal protein because raising animals for food causes 14.5% of all greenhouse gas emissions.

    I totally get that individual actions are not going to turn this ship around. My point is that the behavior of the majority of Americans shows they are unwilling to voluntarily inconvenience themselves–even just a little–to reduce carbon emissions, notwithstanding the “moral obligation” to personal action that they profess.

    • dumboldguy Says:

      I had the same thoughts, except that I would say that SOME of us are willing to inconvenience ourselves “just a little”. I myself am, although it IS “just a little”—–I’m not putting on my hair shirt until I have company. And that’s the problem. Lots of Americans KNOW what’s right but suffer from inertia and the “let somebody else lead the way” syndrome.

      We ARE making progress, but the best motivator is simple fear, and when the wildfires, droughts, floods, tornadoes, and extreme weather start to impact everywhere all the time, the tipping point will be reached sooner and we’ll move faster. Hope it will be before it’s too late.

      • 1happywoman Says:


        Speaking out of my own experience, I believe the problem is more complicated than people aren’t afraid enough.

        It’s also that they’re immobilized by a sense of personal powerlessness, fatalism, and despair. Those feelings have finally made me stop writing my Republican Senator and Congressman, for example.

        But I remind myself (paraphrasing the Dalai Lama) that actions not committed will never produce an effect; actions once committed will never lose their potentiality.

        And it’s probably already too late.

        • dumboldguy Says:

          You sound more like an UNhappy woman there. You’re right that people are immobilized by the immensity and complexity of the problem. I am close to stopping writing to my DEMOCRATIC Senators because they are too busy walking the thin line between keeping business happy and doing the right thing.

          Do you participate in the on-line petition scene or make public statements on line to the various agencies? Surprisingly effective—they often seem to listen when someone dumps 100,000 signatures on their desks.

          And it may be too late—-and it may be that we are making too little progress too slowly. Or it may be that we’ll save ourselves in the nick of time, and I’m firmly convinced that the sound of bullets snapping by overhead WILL motivate many—-let’s hope they fire back rather that crawl under a rock. (We happy men do love our hairy-chested metaphors)

          • 1happywoman Says:

            I concede that at any given moment, my happiness may be just aspirational. 🙂

            I do take heart every time Peter points to some new evidence that public opinion is shifting–something he seems to do more and more often these days.

            And yes, I do sign those online petitions. I also email President Obama to thank him every time he takes any kind of stand–although I was disappointed that “process” was the reason he gave for vetoing the Keystone XL Pipeline bill.

          • dumboldguy Says:

            Don’t be fooled by the rhetoric. Obama vetoed the KXL bill almost instantly to say “In your face, suckas!” to the Repugnants—-the “process” business was just eyewash.

    • andrewfez Says:

      In 2013, the average annual electricity consumption for a U.S. residential utility customer was 10,908 kilowatthours (kWh), an average of 909 kWh per month. Louisiana had the highest annual consumption at 15,270 kWh, and Hawaii had the lowest at 6,176 kWh.

      I use around 2700kwh/yr. I don’t use heat in the winter, and I only us A/C if the temp gets above 85 or so.

      I also cut my meat consumption to 1 meal per day (dinner). I also try to eat more chicken than red meat on average.

      I don’t use my car that much, but only because I have a high salary job, where I can work just 2 or 3 days per week and make enough to live. For all my grocery, bank, post office, drug store, &c. needs, I use a bicycle with a basket on the back luggage rack.

      Basically I kind of live like a European.

      • redskylite Says:

        I admire and salute your lifestyle, I consider myself to be a European, and whilst I lived in the South West of the United Kingdom I never needed or used A/C and used a minimum of heating in the winter (a few log fires in the heart of winter), or cheap off peak background heating. I relocated to the empty quarter desert middle eastern areas, where the temperatures reached well over 100 °F in summer, and I remember when the A/C broke down in my apartment for a lengthy period, I felt my brains were being slowly cooked and felt like absolute sh*t .

        However some of my local Arabic friends lived in traditional rural villas that had courtyards and wind towers, and they were comfortable without the luxury of A/C. Also the Bedouin and camel herders lived in tents, slept in the heat of the mid day sun and survived the wicked high desert temperatures of summer without A/C at all.

        Eventually I relocated to North Island of New Zealand where the average temperature is very temperate all year round (around 60°F in winter and 70°F in summer) and I do not need heating in winter nor A/C in summer.

        However this year the temperature has been well above the published normal, and has been reaching around the 85°F mark as you mention. If you accept climate science it is only going to rise .. it will be hard to get through summers without A/C in the coming years.

        The desert dwellers are used to harsh temperatures and their architects have designed homes to lesson the effects, in my opinion we need to learn the lessons from their experience, instead of just relying on unsuitable building design and remedial energy use.

        • andrewfez Says:

          Thanks Bob –

          Yes I’ve tried to live a few years without A/C and it wasn’t fun. I’m in the San Fernando Valley, and it’s not uncommon to have a few weeks of 100, 105, 108F type readings, whilst the coastal regions, who enjoy the ocean breeze, are significantly lower. UCLA’s climatologist says the Valley is only going to get worse from here forward.

          Sounds like you’ve found a good place to live in harmony with the climate.

          Here’s Amory Lovings, at 56:10 of the video, talking about an old building (old executive office at the White House) that was originally designed in the 19th century for passive, airflow driven cooling, but at some point had been fitted with 782 window a/c units, the passive vents having been sealed up.

  2. You want to meet someone who’s reduced their carbon footprint? ME! I’ve done all the things that you say you don’t know anyone who’s done so.

    I guess if you live in the South with brain dead rednecks, I would imagine that living with ignorant people, you’d never have the topic come up. Yes, some of it is difficult, but it isn’t as hard as you think.

    • 1happywoman Says:


      Like you, I’m doing these things. And when friends notice and remark, I tell them why, using the most personally engaging, non-strident, non-wild-eyed-radical tone and demeanor that I can muster.

      And yes, you guessed it: I live in the deep South.

      To dumboldguy: Put on your hair shirt and make a fashion statement. You have at least John and me for company!

      • andrewfez Says:

        There was an anecdote on Global Warming Fact of the Day on Facebook a while back, where a member was visiting somewhere in the South and they noticed that in all the little motels they would stay at, they still were using the old, non-LED, non-fluorescent, incandescent light bulbs.

      • jpcowdrey Says:

        I love my hair shirt. It’s 100% thriftshop cashmere.

        • dumboldguy Says:

          LMAO I myself actually have a collection of hair shirts. The one I’m saving for big occasions is made of belly hair plucked from immature female hamsters by 5-year-olds in an Asian country who work 12 hour days and are paid 25 cents an hour. I bought it cheap on a trip over there where I burned a lot of jet fuel being a “tourist” and “enriching myself culturally” at the expense of the biosphere.

          My everyday hair shirt is synthetic fleece made from recycled soda bottles. This is ecologically correct because I ignore the carbon footprint underlying the collection of these bottles in the U.S., the energy required to ship them to China and make them into fleece, and the energy required to ship the fabric back here.

  3. Gingerbaker Says:

    “raising animals for food causes 14.5% of all greenhouse gas emissions. ”

    I have serious doubts about the accuracy of that report. The UN study upon which it is based was atrocious. The actual impact on agriculture in general, and meat production in particular, is almost certainly a very small fraction of what was claimed. Probably 3% or less is a more accurate figure.

    Click to access Report-48-WaterFootprint-AnimalProducts-Vol1.pdf

    (scroll down about half-way to avoid his arguments against vegetarianism.

    • 1happywoman Says:


      I’m not usually one to argue with people on the Internet, but I must point out your apparent misreading of the article at the link I included in my post.

      The 14.5% figure comes from the September 2013 UN FAO report, not the 2006 report that you seem to think it does–judging by the fact that two of the articles you linked to for support are dated 2009 and 2010 and the third article (undated, but with comments from 2011) links to the 2006 report itself.

      • dumboldguy Says:

        Hey, 1HW, don’t be so polite—-just tell GB he is FOS (that’s “sawdust”) and move on. You can find lots of “dueling figures” about the impacts of meat production and consumption vs moving further down the food chain, but the fact remains that the base problem is one of those dead horses that are never too dead to beat. One of my favorites—-human population dynamics.

        The number of humans on the planet has doubled in the last 50 years, and eating roots and berries isn’t going to save us—-certainly not as long as we all aspire to a life style that can only be sustained by the “energy slaves” in fossil fuels.

        And if you want to talk numbers, I just read an interesting figure in a book titled”Running Out of Water”. Roughly three percent(+) of the energy used in the U.S. is used to process water to make it drinkable or process sewage to make it clean enough to discharge, and way more energy than that is used to deal with water in the agricultural area. Something like 20% of all the energy used in CA is related to water use.

  4. I did a little bit, put solar panels on the roof and bought a hybrid. But these are just baby steps with negligible impact to CO2 emissions. It will take governments, not individuals to take any meaningful actions to reduce CO2 emissions. Too bad sad governments will not take action due in large part to the fossil fuel lobbies. At least no significant action until the voters at the grass roots truly begin to see climate change as a real threat which needs to be dealt with it and shows their concern at the ballot box. I am not holding my breath waiting for it to happen and by the time it happens, it may already be too late to avoid the more severe effects of climate change (it may be too late already if some of the tipping points have been reached).

  5. John Says:

    Reblogged this on jpratt27.

  6. Michael Bass Says:

    for hayhoe “I am a religious wackjob and even I believe in man-made climate change cause by burning of fossil fuels”

  7. indy222 Says:

    Personal sacrifices to limit our individual carbon footprint will do nothing for climate. We forget how few of us are rich enough to indulge in such considerations. Do it for your personal peace of mind, but don’t fool yourself that guilt-tripping the world about individual action will make any difference. The only hope is global legally enforced policy. More likely, you’ll just bury people’s desire to think about the issue further underground – who wants to confront their own guilty conscience about their car and houseboat etc? When if we instead focus getting them on VOTING correctly, getting Fee & Dividend instituted, getting the existing scoundrels out of office entirely, and finding a way around the corporate stranglehold on our legistlature… we might have some hope.

  8. […] the public is unaware of the serious nature of global warming, he loses me completely. Clearly, the public is far ahead of politicians. That cannot continue indefinitely. And progress is made despite […]

  9. […] the public is unaware of the serious nature of global warming, he loses me completely. Clearly, the public is far ahead of politicians. That cannot continue indefinitely. And progress is made despite […]

  10. […] Pretty decent satirical video slamming the cluelessness of current Republican presidential candidates, – apparently part of the Hillary Clinton messaging apparatus – good for them for paying attention to what polls now tell us – the climate concerned are now the American “Moral Majority”. […]

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