Self Centred People are not Environmentalists
Have you ever considered the motives behind an environmentalist? Do you label people who care for the environment as ‘hippies’ or ‘tree-huggers’, or consider them alternative? Perhaps you are an ‘environmentalist’ yourself. If so, what drives this passion?
As someone who wants to see the environment protected, but hopes that someone else will put in the hard-yards and self-sacrifice, I see that my values reflect “self-enhancing” life goals. I could use less energy, but I like being refreshed by my air-conditioner in the heat of the day. I could reduce my carbon emissions, but I like the convenience of a car.
As Schultz and Zelezny reported in Reframing Environmental Messages to be Congruent with American Values people who have self-enhancing values have a negative correlation with environmental concern. This means that caring for the environment does not go hand-in-hand with self-oriented goals.
Environmentalists (as a generalisation) are people with values that transcend the individual and are focused on the big picture. ‘Self-transcendent’ values include (but are not limited to):
being responsible, altruistic, broad-minded, helpful, and concerned with social justice.
Self-enhancing values (contrastingly) are related to:
personal gain, power or achievement.
This study reports that the majority of the US population rated “self-enhancing” life goals most highly according to survey data, even for environmental issues. Environmental worries raised by US citizens were problems that could directly affect them. For example water pollution was of great concern. “I don’t want to drink polluted water” was the fear.
Schultz and Zelezny suggest that environmental messages need to be reframed to target individuals with self-enhancing life goals, because of this trend in the US. Instead of trying to change an individual’s values (which are concreted at an early age), a new twist can be given to environmental messages.
“Reducing energy consumption will help prevent climate change”
“Using less energy will preserve your purse strings”.
One problem with this method is that people with self enhancing values may perceive the costs to still outweigh the benefits, and not be influenced to change.
“Saving money (and energy) is all well and good, but I’d rather be cool in summer!!”
Changing a person’s values is not a feasible approach. However, re-framing an environmental message may be more viable. There are doubts that this method will always be effective, as some environmental efforts may not have a self-enhancing ‘spin’ to put on them.
For example, conservation biology efforts in Western Australia try to save rare orchid species. This can lead to listing certain areas as nature reserves (and halting urban development) for aesthetic pleasures and conservation of endemic species. This message is more difficult to re-frame to satisfy a self-serving individual.
“Do not develop buildings, to save a pretty flower” may be the only message they hear.
There are definitely some limitations to the method of reframing environmental messages in this manner, but isn’t it worth a try? Peoples’ values are not likely to change, and planet earth deserves a fighting chance.
Things to consider:
Do you think “reframing” environmental messages will be effective in encouraging a self-enhancing audience towards change?
Can you think of a way the orchid message could be conveyed successfully to an audience with self-enhancing life goals?
Schultz, P. W., & Zelezny, L. (2003). Reframing environmental messages to be congruent with American values. Human Ecology Review, 10(2), 126-136.
http://www.treehuggersofamerica.org, accessed 11th April 2011