Making Sense of The Senseless: Identity, Justice, and the Framing of Environmental Crises

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Responses to environmental crises will depend on the way in which these events are understood and characterized, perceptions that may be affected by media frames as well as by individual motivations. This paper reports on two studies looking at the role of justice and framing of environmental problems. In Study 1, 297 participants were asked to characterize the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon as an injustice, a crime, or a natural disaster following a description of the event that focused on one of several different types of harm. They also rated harm caused, responsibility for the harm, and their own affective response. In Study 2, 387 participants read a paragraph about climate change that focused on one of several targets of harm and then rated the threat of climate change, responsibility for addressing climate change, and affective response. In both studies, general belief in a just world was associated with weaker negative affect, whereas environmental identity and a liberal political orientation were associated with stronger responses. Business and industry were seen as primarily responsible for both causing and remediating the problems. Framing the issue had a limited influence. The results suggest that political differences in environmental concern are associated with different characterizations of environmental crises and that a desire for justice can both facilitate and hamper pro-environmental responses. © 2013 Springer Science+Business Media New York.


Belief in a just world, Climate change, Environmental attitudes, Environmental identity, Framing, Political orientation

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