Of five emotions analysed by a new report in the peer-reviewed Global Environment Change journal – anger, sadness, guilt, fear and hope – climate anger has been found to be the most influential in spurring climate action. In fact, the link to climate activism is seven times stronger for anger than it is for hope.
The research, which surveyed just over 2,000 Norwegian adults, found that 48% of respondents reported feeling anger related to climate change. Most responses reflected anger about the causes (rather than consequences) of the climate crisis, with the main reason for anger being human actions (or lack thereof) contributing to climate change. 57% of people cited that as a factor, while 26% were angry about human qualities (like people not caring).
Politicians and greed – and the way many prioritise money over the environment – also sparked fury and were factors indicating people are more likely to endorse the idea that climate protesting is a moral responsibility. However, the link between emotions and action was weaker for questions about limiting emissions in daily life and supporting fuel taxes.
For every two steps an individual took along the anger scale, they moved one step along the activism scale. But for 10%, the anger was not directed at the threat of climate change, but rather about aspects like climate communication/reporting, and mitigation measures – the researchers call this “contrarian anger”.
People reporting climate anger were also more likely to support climate policy than others, but not as likely to take individual action towards tackling the crisis – emotions like sadness and fear were more strongly linked to individual action. Having said that people who were angry about human qualities and causes of climate change were more likely than others to take all three forms of climate engagement: individual action, policy support, and activism
“We were a bit surprised about the number of people referring to ‘human qualities’ when asked about their reason to be angry,” says lead author Thea Gregersen. She adds that the finding reflects “quite negative assessments of humankind –that people are uncaring, egoistic, selfish, and deny responsibility”.
A range of emotions
The study also found that people only had mild feelings about the planet’s heating. And the effects were significantly smaller for actions other than anger – though fear and guilt were the best predictors of policy support, and sadness, fear and hope the best indicators of behavioural adjustments.
“The problem isn’t that people feel too scared about climate change,” said Gregersen. “The problem, in Norway at least, seems to be that they’re not scared enough.” The Nordic country, however, is a powerhouse in the European cultivated meat scene, having funded a five-year cellular agriculture project to develop sustainable alt-proteins.
She added: “The main takeaway is that climate anger relates to climate change engagement, but that the effect depends both on the type of engagement in question and what people are angry about.”
The study’s results about hope, however, were a little in contrast with another report published this week that found “partial yet inconclusive” evidence that increasing hope makes people engage more with the climate, with those whose hope was complacent less likely to engage in climate activism than those whose hope was linked to action.
It’s the latest in a series of surveys about climate change. A 2021 survey in The Lancet journal found that 50% of people feel strong emotions about the climate crisis, with most agreeing with the statement “humanity is doomed”. Meanwhile, another study said that 70% of the world’s top sustainability experts found the future of climate change to be bleak, while a consumer poll last year revealed that 40% of people would not want to have children due to the environmental crisis.
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