Your Lying Eyes

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12 December 2008

Think of Our Children and Grandchildren

Yesterday morning I was listening to BBC Newshour on the radio where they were discussing how important it is to continue to fight climate change despite the worldwide economic crisis. One interviewee was very firm in this for the sake of "our children and grandchildren." That's a common refrain in climate-change advocacy circles, as a simple Google search can tell you. Hmmmm. That is certainly a valid and worthy concern - I think of my progeny's future often in the context of unabated immigration. But is that really what's going on here with global-warming alarms?

So I decided to turn to - what else - the GSS for help. Alas, there are some questions in the survey that touch on global warming, but nothing very direct. There is a question on the environment generally, though, and whether we are spending enough, too little, or too much. For general environmental concerns (and the whole climate-change issue is really the grand enchilada of environmental worries), the "for the sake of our children and grandchildren" mantra should actually indicate that people are indeed influenced by how many children they have.

Global warming really burst on the scene with a vengeance after the steamy-hot, super-el Nino year of 1998. So I looked at answers to the "NATENVIR" question (text below) from the 2000 and later surveys by number of children the respondent has (N=5,462).

Well that's a bit opposite of the trend we would have predicted - we see here that those with no children are the most likely to believe we spend too little protecting the environment and the likelihood of thinking that way actually tends to decrease the more children you have. Here's the question:
We are faced with many problems in this country, none of which can be solved easily or inexpensively. I'm going to name some of these problems, and for each one I'd like you to tell me whether you think we're spending too much money on it, too little money, or about the right amount. b. improving and protecting the environment.
Now support for the proposition that we spend "too little" is very strong overall in this result, but clearly that support is not driven by concerns for children and grandchildren, else the trend would be reversed. So next time you here that phrase from a global warming alarmist, your B.S. detector should at least start buzzing. As a proof of concept, let's look at another similar question in the GSS, but this one about crime rather than the environment. Crime, like the environment, is a concern for everyone, but how does having children affect people's attitudes on crime? I ran the same GSS query as above, but using NATCRIME instead of NATENVIR.

So here we have increasing concern that we're doing too little the more children you have. That's the kind of result I'd expect if the true motivating factor were indeed the well being of one's descendants.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The higher concern about the environment from those who have no children may well be in many cases the reason they have no chindren to begin with.

In the other hand, if you already have children, you'll worry more about things like crime (and other concerns, not all of which that reflect accurately the real risks affecting children), and will possibly rationalize the idea that you brought your children to live in a world with increasing scarcity and poverty. Or, at least, that would be a smaller concern when compared with less abstract and short-term troubles.

March 14, 2011 4:48 PM  

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