Don’t want to be green? Or maybe you do, but can’t convince your friends, family or spouse to see the greener side of things? It could be that you aren’t using the right arguments. Try this one instead:
“Look (loved and/or tolerated person’s name here), it’s not really about polar bears or spotted owls, it’s about our precious bodily fluids. All this pollution is making our bodies and the planet impure.”
According to new research in the spring issue of Conservation magazine, this tack, which sounds to me a lot like the rhetoric of one Brig. General Jack D. Ripper (in the image above) in the movie “Dr. Strangelove,” really works. For some people anyway.
The first part of the article is about a little experiment by Dutch researchers at a gas station in Virginia that was published in Nature Climate Change. For 22 days they posted messages with either economic or moral implications of checking their cars’ tire pressure — along with a free coupon to have the tire check done. Not a single person took a coupon when the economic message was posted, but 11 people snapped them up when the moral argument was put to them. It’s not a lot to go on, but it’s intriguing.
Next there is this other bit of research in Psychological Science by another team that refines the matter more by breaking down how different kinds of moral arguments appeal to people across the political spectrum. First they divided morality into five categories: harm and care; fairness and reciprocity; group loyalty, authority, and respect; and purity and sanctity. They then looked at the kinds of public messages that are out there and found that most are about the Earth being harmed and needing care — the harm and care morality — which really revs up liberals, but leaves conservatives bored and glassy eyed.
But then the researchers designed some pro-environmental messages that appealed to the purity and sanctity morality — that pollution was making our planet and bodies impure — and showed these messages to conservatives. And guess what? After viewing the messages the conservatives showed just as much concern for the environment as the liberals. Pretty neat.
Of course, the problem with applying this lesson is that anyone who has ever seen “Dr. Strangelove” will have a hard time making the purity argument with a straight face. My advice: Go with it. Get a cigar, snuggle up to your listener just like the General does, and get into character.
IMAGE: General Ripper explains to Group Captain Mandrake how he first discovered the Communist plot to pollute Americans’ “precious bodily fluids.” (Wikimedia Commons/Columbia Pictures)