by Andy West
Probing the relationship between religiosity globally, and cultural beliefs in the narrative of imminent / certain global climate catastrophe: Post 1 of 3.
The main narrative of catastrophic climate-change culture (CCCC) contradicts mainstream (and skeptical) science. Yet widespread lack of belief in / commitment to CCCC across many nations cannot stem from rational consideration, because national publics simply aren’t climate literate enough for rationality to gain any meaningful grip upon the issue (plus the narrative itself claims an impeccable science pedigree). It’s much more likely that most disbelief stems from Innate Skepticism (ISk).
As described here, ISk is very different to rational skepticism. It is an instinctive reaction against invasive alien (to established local conditions) culture, or major over-reach by a dominant local culture. Given that CCCC is a relatively new culture sweeping through societies, it will trigger ISk in many people, who will then resist its narratives of catastrophe and salvation. Whether or not individuals do get triggered into ISk, depends upon their prior long-established cultural values. So, this means we can probe THE PROPOSAL that globally, ISk is indeed the primary driver of bulk public skepticism about CCCC, via of all things the religiosity of nations. If so, we can also predict CCCC beliefs using religiosity.
For nations, I plot against religiosity the answers to survey questions which are the most affirmative / supportive / concerned about climate-change issues. I attempt to cover as many nations as possible, the limitation being a large enough survey of attitudes on climate-change covering plenty, where most of the same nations also have a common measure of religiosity available. Also, nations in various world regions and of different faiths (Christian, Islamic, Hindu, Buddhist etc.) are needed for a truly generic picture. To help attain this width of cover, I build my own very straightforward religiosity scale by combining public surveys on same that probe from different angles (this increases robustness and minimizes bias effects).
There are two main categories of climate survey questions (as for surveys generally). Questions are either reality-constrained, or unconstrained. The former forces respondents to consider their answer in the light of other prominent real-world / reality issues, most typically by asking participants to say which X out of Y issues are the most important to them (e.g. 1 out of 10, or 4 out of 12 or whatever), of which one is a climate-change issue or just ‘climate-change’ alone, and the others are completely different (important) topics. The unconstrained questions are open-ended, and don’t do this. When expecting answers that are driven by cultural responses, these two types typically give very different results. This post focuses on the unconstrained side only. Responses for reality-constrained questions, are dealt with in the next posts.
Regarding the unconstrained climate survey questions, I use a September 2019 YouGov survey (full pdf) of attitudes on climate-change issues for 28 countries spread across world regions. Of these I can match 26 from my religiosity scale, which do indeed cover world regions and faiths.
The above survey features a significant number of questions / options, providing for various tests against religiosity including the responses that should not correlate. Indeed, as this survey isn’t designed to probe for cultural alignment to climate catastrophism (inclusive of hope of salvation), while it happens to contain questions that should invoke a very dominant cultural response, there are also many that produce weaker responses. For the latter, one wouldn’t expect to see a simple linear relationship with religiosity (albeit this doesn’t exclude some relationship). So for instance, “The climate is changing and human activity is mainly responsible”, will not invoke a dominant cultural engagement (and correlation). Many responders could answer this affirmatively without being emotively committed to climate catastrophism’s core tenets (i.e. a high certainty of imminent catastrophe yet with the concurrent hope of salvation). The question is effectively a technical one too, which weakens emotive response (albeit this doesn’t mean that rationality would necessarily rule instead).
The detailed interaction between CCCC and the mainstream faiths is mixed. Strong public endorsements are backed by very lack-luster action and very little true exchange of core narratives, such as occurs for a strong alliance of cultures. There is alliance, but a weak, surface one. This should nevertheless be enough to disable ISk about CCCC in religious believers for unconstrained questions; even approval ‘by default’ should be sufficient for this. So, this means that higher national religiosity should correlate with higher affirmative scores for those climate survey questions which do very dominantly engage belief in CCCC narratives. The next section assesses the first question that should demonstrate correlation.
[Note: for sound reasons explained later, the US shouldn’t conform to the Section 1 proposal; I included it nevertheless to confirm this is so, because otherwise there’d be something wrong with the theory].
Attitudes on ‘Personal Climate Impact’ versus Religiosity
“How much of an impact, if any, do you believe climate change will have on your life?” This is a great question for cultural correlation, because narratives of CCCC strongly emphasize impact on everyone, rich or poor, any nation, albeit the poor have less means to mitigate impact. Plus ‘your life’ matches the relative imminence (in fact ‘happening now’) also stressed by the narrative. Only a minority of elderly believers might expect to miss out on personal impacts. Featuring a personal angle also increases the emotive response. The total responses for ‘a great deal’ charted against religiosity, are below.
The first thing to notice about this graph is the stretched ‘S’ shape of religiosity undershoot (LHS) / overshoot (RHS) from trend, which I return to later. Then also, that two of the nations which stray the most from correlation (and from others, i.e. are opposite to that ‘S’ shaped straddle) are my expected exception of the US, and (very much!) Vietnam. Elsewise, correlation is good. [Chart 2xy in SI datafile].
It is hard to over-emphasize just how unusual the US is compared to other nations regarding the social psychology of climate-change. This is due to cultural belief / opposition on the issue neatly aligning to an existing very high polarization (i.e. on many other issues) of political parties, which afaik occurs nowhere else. As within the US religion itself also has a partisan lean (both Reps and Dems are majority religious parties, but with significantly more, and more fundamentalist, believers supporting the former), the religious and climate-change domains have a more complex entanglement. The US also appears to have by far the most research into attitudes on climate-change, which unfortunately helps to make this highly unusual scenario (for nations globally) look like a norm. The Supplementary Information has far more information on this, including links to prior analysis of the US and ways to perceive how it should sit in these types of graphs.
While communism in Vietnam has moved hugely from its classic position of decades ago, especially regarding economics, the system survives in far more than just spirit and with unbroken threads such as idealism wrt its crucial role in throwing off French and US control / influence, plus single-party political power and propaganda. Regarding the exercise here, this not only means a very likely biased-low measure of religiosity (which is monitored and frowned upon), but a strong cultural belief especially in the older population, which isn’t religious but secular. If that secular belief is also aligned to CCCC, or at least doesn’t oppose it, the sum of (actual) religiosity and secular strong belief, could make Vietnam act like a highly religious country in terms of disabling ISk about CCCC for most of the population – maybe!
The exceptional US and Vietnam are thus removed from further analysis, leaving 24 nations (r=0.92). [Their data remains in the SI datafile – use delete / undelete row to see charts with these out or in].
Attitudes on ‘UN Power to Combat CC’ versus Religiosity
The next responses measured are the affirmative ‘a great deal’ to the question: “how much power, if any, do you think each of the following have to combat climate change?” Sub-option: “International bodies (e.g. the United Nations)”. This question moves away from core existentiality, yet still invokes some fear and hope. Likely, participants will respond in respect of attitudes to the only example organization given. And the UN elite aided by older generation NGOs, have written their org indelibly into the catastrophic climate-change narrative as the orthodox priesthood (despite more fervent nouveau prophets like XR and Greta) plus originator of solutions (via coordination of science / policy and pressuring nations to comply).
This measurement also demonstrates a robust correlation, ‘r’=0.89. Although more ragged, the ‘S’ shaped straddle about trend is also present; clearly, this is a common feature. As this question is less personal and emotive than the one producing Chart 1, a narrower ‘concern’ data-range with less signal-to-noise is an expectation, see the Supplementary Information as to why. Yet this result is nevertheless robust enough to regard as great support for my Section 1 proposal. [Chart 4xy in SI datafile].
However, an apparently new outlier here is Thailand. The SI notes a potential reason why Thailand may have a lack of faith in the UN, but it’s not a strong case IMO. Hence while staying aware, there’s no reason to grant Thailand ‘official’ exception status – it stays in the plots.
Attitudes on ‘Human Extinction’ versus Religiosity
While there’s an issue with the question on attitudes to human extinction, I figured this shouldn’t matter and responses should also correlate robustly. The issue is that, much like for religion, the core narrative for climate-change includes a fear of catastrophe and hope of salvation (via the touted dramatic emissions reduction). For a question probing into the more deeply existential, both of these aspects should really be invoked to capture a central swathe of believers. However, the relevant question asks only: ‘How likely do you think it is that climate change will cause the extinction of the human race?’ Not mentioning the hope / salvation aspect means picking up mostly the doomsters, the too late already brigades, for strong affirmatives. Yet while engaging a limited part of the belief spectrum, a sub-flavor as it were, responses for ‘very likely’ should still invoke strong cultural response, should still correlate.
While I wasn’t wrong as such – correlation didn’t dissolve (and there’s structure like Chart 1 and 2) – it’s much weaker. ‘r’ is only 0.61. I then realized that the very low responses range, as indeed I ought to have expected for a doomster-only core, pushes up the relative effect of measurement error. Something to be aware of; my cultural net needs to be kept wide. Nevertheless, this statistically significant correlation (p=0.0016) isn’t devoid of meaning. I guess one can say that even the narrow context of human extinction alone, just about scrapes through the cultural alignment / correlation test. [See Chart 3xy in SI datafile].
Climate-Change attitudes that shouldn’t have a simple relationship / correlation with Religiosity
Positive responses to ‘do you think that you personally could be doing more to tackle climate change’, shouldn’t particularly correlate with religiosity, because cultural belief in an imminent climate catastrophe won’t dominate responses. While the culture via various means including guilt invokes the sentiment of ‘doing more’, very many people who think there’s a climate issue but aren’t ardent cultural believers in catastrophe / salvation, will share such a sentiment. The Supplementary Information gives further reasons why cultural responses should be weak in this case. As expected, correlation is lost (‘r’= -0.17).
A question in the climate survey asks: ‘Which countries, if any, do you think have had the most negative impact on global warming and climate change?’ Followed by a list of 25 countries, where up to 5 can be chosen. This is a weakly CCCC-aligned question, which is to say it does not have a strong existential / emotive / personal engagement (excepting responses for the participants’ own nations), and is relatively objective in that responses ought to stem from the context of widespread and unconflicted knowledge about the sizes of national populations and economies. This doesn’t mean all answers will be correct, and indeed responses are scattered across all the 25 countries. But responses fingering any particular country whether right or wrong, say India, shouldn’t robustly correlate with religiosity. For the test case I used of India, this indeed proved to be the case.
See Charts F1, F2 in SI datafile. Note: as discussed in the third post of this series, there’s some revealing non-linear structure in both of the responses measured here. But an expected lack of strong correlation is all we’re currently concerned about.
Sharpening the picture
I investigated the ‘S’ shaped straddle that can be seen in charts 1 and 2 (and systemically throughout in fact). In summary, not only is this a feature of the religiosity scale in isolation, it isn’t due to the particular set of charted nations, also occurring with a completely different set (having religiosity cover, but not climate-survey cover). So, given religiosity against a dead-straight-line plots similarly, then whatever causes this shape (systemic self-assessment error is my main SI candidate), the underlying relationship of religiosity with CCCC is highly likely also linear. In which case, the ‘r’ values as noted above are indeed valid for the charted relationships.
The above means it’s reasonable to iron out this bias (whether indeed it’s due to self-assessment error or any other measurement issue) so we can better see the true relationship between religiosity and CCCC without it. SI provides detail. Chart 3 is the resulting picture for Chart 1 redrawn in this manner. [See 7xy in SI datafile. And Chart F7xy for the equivalent redraw of Chart 2. Plus footnotes 12,7,7a,7b].
Note: Because the ‘S’ shape straddled the trend fairly evenly, this exercise has almost no impact on r.
In preparation for the next post, I plotted the debiased versions of Charts 1 and 2 together, also reversing the X and Y axes (an alternate Y axis is used later for further data). It’s important to note that survey questions which are less emotive / existential / personal, (pink), i.e. less aligned to CCCC, give a lower gradient of responses with national religiosity than those for more aligned questions, (blue). As it’s only there to demonstrate this lower gradient, the pink series is muted to reduce clutter; another series will be loaded on later (plus note, Hong Kong and Taiwan are dropped as the next series doesn’t cover them). For theoretical trends having less and less gradient, a direct linear relationship eventually fades away.
I term the effect causing these trends ‘Allied Belief’ (ABel). They occur because the surface alliance between CCCC and religion (more about this in the SI), makes religious adherents feel comfortable with climate catastrophe narratives, as long as there are no reality constraints, thereby disabling their Innate Skepticism of CCCC. Blue does this more strongly than pink. This doesn’t happen for most irreligious people (more of these in irreligious nations).
The robust relationship depicted above doesn’t prove that the main cultural mechanism is the disablement of Innate Skepticism to CCCC. Alternate explanations for the correlation are possible, albeit given the nature of religion they couldn’t avoid a cultural dimension. The SI outlines a (weak, imo) candidate, and there may be others. However, I believe my case is strong, and it gels with further data in the next posts.
Notwithstanding such cautions / exceptions, via a simple relationship: Globally, can Religiosity predict Cultural Climate Beliefs? Well Chart 4 could hardly be more supportive of this. And even the ‘doomster only’ response scrapes the test. But… cultural effects are rarely intuitive. So for instance, if one assumes that nations in Chart 4 which have high levels of climate concern (and religiosity), are also those with more climate-change activism, and / or stronger / more emissions reduction policies, this is very wrong! The Scandinavian nations or the UK, say, at the left-hand side, score very high in both these areas, and Europe generally scores more than the higher religiosity nations on the right-hand side. So, do climate surveys not reflect reality? What is going on?
Well, it turns out that the surveys very much reflect reality. But there’s two strong relationships between CCCC and religiosity, which are very divergent and supported by two different types of belief. Of which this post demonstrates only the first. To get into the prediction game (of both beliefs and the behaviors they drive) we must also characterize the second relationship, which as hinted at the beginning comes from reality-constrained surveys. From which in turn, the apparent paradox above and others too, are explainable via the total cultural effects in play. So…
There are 3 posts in this series, all of which have the same style of Supplementary Information, which consist: 1) an expanded post, 2) a footnotes file, and 3) an Excel datafile. The text below is a streamlined post version, geared to get the concepts across more readily and uncluttered regarding side-issues, detail on methodology, intricate depth, path my exploration took etc. For folks who want more, the expanded post is ~4900 words. Be aware that the footnotes file, also having various external references, relates to the expanded post (though a couple are pointed at below). Likewise, all the chart IDs within the Excel datafile are numbered for the expanded post. However, all sources / data for the charts below can easily be found (I provided SI IDs in the text). The datafile includes various extra charts too.
Long version [ONE Extended Post]
Footnotes [ONE Footnotes]
Data file [ ONE Datafile ]