A December 2011 public opinion study by the Center for International and Security Studies at Maryland and its affiliate, the Program on International Policy Attitudes, found that the religious and moral beliefs of a majority of Americans can lead them to directly or indirectly prefer policies that would address threats to the environment and mitigate the effects of global climate change. Yet, the study also confirmed how few believers initially think of climate change and other threats to the environment in religious or moral terms. The wide-ranging ways in which questions about environmental issues can be framed could help to explain how believers who don’t readily identify addressing environmental threats as spiritual obligations are able to engage these beliefs. Other possible explanations include (1) that Americans think about their religious and moral beliefs more as they apply to people’s personal lives than to big-picture, long-term issues such as climate change and/or (2) that spirituality and public policy engage different cognitive modes and that individuals are willing to act out of a moral construct without scientific reason. Based on these survey findings, this paper suggests that finding ways to overcome these obstacles and engage individuals on the basis of their religious and moral beliefs could be an effective way to increase public support for action and policies aimed at mitigating environmental threats, including global climate change.
Author(s): Maria Snegovaya, Sheri Berman