What Moves Conservatives On The Environment? Show Them Pictures Of What Happens Without The EPA

If you’re a conservative, this image of Cleveland from 1973 taken before the Environmental Protection Agency started cleaning up our skies should make you care about the environment:

That’s according to a new paper from UC Berkeley, anyway.

In a study released this week, UC Berkeley researchers looked at how conservatives respond to messages about protecting the environment. Rather than being moved by the moral arguments that progressives often make, the study found that conservatives responded to images and videos within a “purity/sanctity” frame:

The purity/sanctity-themed article stressed how pollution has contaminated Earth and people’s bodies, and argued for cleaning up and purifying the environment. To enhance those themes and elicit disgust, the accompanying images showed a person drinking filthy water, a city under a cloud of pollution and a forest full of garbage. The neutral article talked about the history of neckties.


Participants were then asked to rate how strongly they felt certain emotions, including disgust, in response to what they’d read. Next, they reported how strongly they agreed or disagreed with such statements as “It is important to protect the environment,” “I would support government legislation aimed at protecting the environment” and ‘I believe humans are causing global warming.”

Overall, the study found that the purity-themed message inspired conservatives to feel higher levels of disgust, which in turn increased their support for protecting the environment.

Interesting. Let’s test out the study. Theoretically, that response to “purity” would make this photo of a severely asthmatic child living near a coal plant in Nevada an effective message for conservatives:

It would also make this photo of Pennsylvania resident Sherry Vargson lighting her methane-contaminated tap water on fire from fracking a pretty effective tool:

This picture of smog hanging over New York City in the 1970’s before strong Environmental Protection air regulations would likely have an impact as well:

My guess is that the pictures move you whether you’re progressive, conservative, or neither. No matter which type of messaging influences you — the “moral” argument or the “purity” argument — most of us can agree on the need for a clean environment and institutions like the EPA to preserve those standards.

Well, everyone except for lawmakers in Congress trying to kill the EPA.