Climate change, moral values, and the partisan divide

The difference between people on the political left (liberals) and political right (conservatives) reflects moral and cultural differences. Liberals tend to evaluate the importance of political issues by relating those issues to moral values of care and fairness. Conservatives tend to evalute the importance of political issues by relating them to moral values of loyalty, authority, and purity.

The historical framing of the climate change issue as about harm and care made the issue more urgent to liberals by appealing to their preference to prioritize political issues centered on care and fairness. However, a harm/care framing did not resonate as much with conservatives who evaluated the issue by relating it to loyalty, authority, and purity.

The harm/care framing might also have dissuaded conservatives from engaging on the issue because liberal solutions often recommended strenthening the role of the nation-state or creating government bodies above the nation-state level, such as through the United Nations framework. Conservatives who relate these solutions to their moral values about the danger of centralized authority might actively reject climate change as an issue that needs any policy attention.

If those concerned about climate change want to increase the importance of the issue to conservatives, they might explain how climate change relates to the moral values of loyalty, authority, and purity conservatives use to evalute which issues should get policy attention.


  • Wong-Parodi, G., & Feygina, I. 2020. Understanding and countering the motivated roots of climate change denial. Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability, 1–5.
  • Feinberg, M., & Willer, R. 2013. The Moral Roots of Environmental Attitudes. Psychological Science.
  • Graham, J., Haidt, J., & Nosek, B. A. 2009. Liberals and Conservatives Rely on Different Sets of Moral Foundations. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

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