EAST LANSING, Mich. — A prevailing belief across today’s society is that deeply religious individuals are unwilling to make sacrifices to protect the Earth, while secular-minded citizens are more motivated to take action against environmental pollution. Interestingly, a new study conducted at Michigan State University is challenging this notion.
Researchers say the stout religious beliefs of fundamentalist Christians actually make them more willing to conserve water and energy, shop environmentally, and sacrifice some convenience to help out the planet.
Previous research into the matter had found fundamentalist Christians tend to be conservative-leaning politically, unwilling to accept climate change, and hesitant to make any eco-friendly changes in their daily lives. In the past, researchers connected these views to Bible passages asserting man’s dominance over the Earth and nature.
However, after surveying 518 Americans, the research team at Michigan State came to a different set of conclusions. According to their findings, the emphasis that fundamental Christianity places on sacrifice for the greater good motivated study subjects to report they would be willing to cut back on unnecessary water use, reuse shopping bags, and turn down the thermostat in the winter.
“In the United States, fundamentalist faith tends to be correlated with political conservatism, and at least since the Reagan administration, conservatives have been less concerned with the environment than liberals,” explains MSU professor Thomas Dietz in a release. “We find that fundamentalist Christians are actually more likely than others to enact pro-environmental behaviors once we take account of their political views. The effect of religious beliefs seems to act through higher levels of altruistic concerns with other species and the biosphere.”
It’s worth noting that while fundamentalist Christians did indicate that they would be willing to make sacrifices to fight climate change, those sacrifices prioritized the preservation of humanity. That is, they did not share the same sentiment when it came to specifically protecting biodiversity.
“We hope that our findings encourage steps toward a more integrated theory of environmental decision-making and the design of common practices for pro-environmental behaviors,” comments Min Gon Chung, a PhD candidate in MSU’s Center for Systems Integration and Sustainability.
The study is published in the Journal of Environmental Studies and Sciences.