Climate change is the political issue couples ignore

You’re probably well aware of the things you and your partner disagree on. Small things – the best way to load the dishwasher, which of the restaurants in your neighborhood is better, if the mayonnaise is disgusting (it is). And maybe bigger things – whether you need to move to live closer to their parents, what size house you need or can afford, even who they voted for or what issues they care about. After all, that’s what dates are for, and you ended up together.

So knowing where your partner stands on something like, say, climate change, should be a given, right? Well, not quite.

“Research shows that people rarely talk about climate change with friends and family, even if they care deeply about it themselves,” Matthew Goldberg, a research fellow at the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, told The Daily Beast. . But is this true for couples? He and his colleagues conducted a study to find out.

Her work has revealed that romantic couples can have misconceptions about each other’s beliefs on the subject, especially for those who don’t talk about it.

Researchers asked both members of 758 romantic couples about their beliefs and behaviors regarding climate change. On the “beliefs” side, this meant assessing the extent to which participants believe climate change is happening, is man-made, and how concerned they are about it and how much personal importance they place at the question. In behavioral terms, this meant a variety of actions ranging from signing petitions and donating to relevant nonprofits to posting about it on social media.

They found that partner beliefs had a “match,” or belief similarity measure, of just 38%, while couples’ climate behavior had just 31% match. And it wasn’t just that the partners thought and acted differently, they also didn’t have a particularly firm understanding of what the other person was thinking on the subject – the correspondence between the partners’ perceived beliefs was only by 32%.

The authors carried out a more in-depth analysis, using a categorization system known as the “Six Americas”, according to which people’s attitudes towards climate change can be alarmed, concerned, cautious, disengaged, doubtful or dismissive. (For the record, in the last December 2020 poll, about three-quarters of the country fell into the alarmed, worried, or cautious categories.) Couples fell into the same category a reasonable proportion — 47% of the time — but it There were also many instances of mismatch, meaning one is far more alarmed by the issue than the other.

And if not understanding one’s romantic partner’s beliefs isn’t damning enough, there’s been another blow to our collective self-esteem. The primary driver of misperception of a partner’s belief was found to be own beliefs – meaning we are all so narcissistic and self-centered that we assume what we believe is what everyone around us believes.

In other words, not only do the partners have different levels of “concern” about climate change and hidden disagreements on an important issue, they are not even fully aware of the nature of these disagreements. For example, one person may care a lot, while the other hasn’t really thought about it, and neither knows.

Don’t panic just yet if you haven’t had “the conversation” with your partner, especially if you’re the one who cares a lot about climate change. These many failures in personal relationships have a silver lining: it was not common for couples to be on completely opposite sides of the spectrum.

“It makes sense that people aren’t fully aligned with their partners because the topic probably doesn’t come up very often, if at all,” he said. “When we saw that it was common for one partner to be concerned about climate change and the other only moderately concerned, it showed us that there was indeed a strong place for influence. pro-climate among romantic partners.”

The study authors further concluded that your disagreement might actually be a good thing. It can even help the other person get carried away if they haven’t quite chosen sides.

Other research has indeed indicated that people close to us can actually influence the way we think and act. For example, a 2019 study regarding influenza vaccination showed that the perception of vaccination coverage in one’s social circle can increase the likelihood that an individual in that circle will get vaccinated. And there’s climate-specific evidence, too: another 2019 study showed that simply discussing global warming with friends and family increases knowledge and acceptance, as well as levels of concern. This in turn intensified the discussion, a situation the authors described as “a proclimatic social feedback loop.”

Goldberg told The Daily Beast that while this type of research has a long history on many specific topics, climate change and its perceived political divide make it a bit different. “It often makes people feel like they shouldn’t talk about it because they don’t want to start an argument,” he said. “As we saw in our results, however, couples were much more specific in their understanding of each other when they reported discussing the issue. This tells us that discussion may be the mechanism by which a partner influences a other.

So if you’re wondering if your partner shares your level of alarm about droughts, heat waves, floods, and wildfires, now’s the time to ask. You can be sure that if you find that their concern is lacking, you will have a good chance of changing their minds. But probably not about the mayonnaise.

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