Norms Altruism and Justice

Personal norms guide our sense of right and wrong. We feel guilty when we break them, as Deborah does when she fails to bring her shopping bag to the grocery store or her personal cup to the coffee

Average Weekly 44% Participation

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FIG. 3.2. Enhancing group norms through feedback sustains recycling. From Schultz, P. W. (1998). Changing behavior with normative feedback interventions. In Basic and Applied Social Psychology, 2(1), p. 30. © Lawrence Erlbaum Assoc. Reprinted with permission.

shop. Although stores give small (3-10 cent) rebates for bringing bags or cups, her own guilt is not about financial loss, but her sense of responsibility to future generations and her sense of betraying her caring about the environment. Because the rewards for recycling are more personal than social, most people think of recycling as a behavior in the moral domain (Thogersen, 1996). Thus, feelings of environmental responsibility are important predictors of ecological behavior (Kaiser, Ranney, Hartig, & Bowler, 1999). (By the way, the fact that we are more motivated by guilt than by money could be used to argue that social psychological approaches are more potent than behavioral ones emphasizing external reinforcers. However, behaviorists would come back and say that guilt is a function of one's history of reinforcement. We will look at the behavioral approaches more closely in chap. 4.)

Do personal norms correlate with behavior? In general, yes, although all of us break our own personal norms now and then. Studying German adults, Kals, Schumacher, and Montada (1999) found that a personal sense of environmental responsibility predicts energy conservation and political activities (e.g., signing petitions and supporting environmental organizations). These researchers also demonstrated that one's environmental responsibility is correlated with an emotional affinity toward nature, as well as indignation about insufficient protection of it. People who spent time in nature, especially with significant others, had emotional feelings about the health of the environment. In other words, past experience in natural settings is a powerful predictor of emotionally caring about the environment, and Geller (1995) argued that caring about the environment is a crucial predictor of environmentally responsible behavior.

Emotional experiences frame our sense of fairness, and give rise to environmental justice. The field of environmental justice has grown in national importance and is a natural outgrowth of the civil rights and environmental movements (Bullard, 1994). Bullard wrote extensively regarding clear and disturbing patterns of unjust environmental policies that place populations of color and lower income at greater risk for environmental pollution (Bullard, 1983, 1990, 1993, 1994, 1996; Bullard & Johnson, 2000). Bullard's main work used U.S. populations, but the same picture is increasingly true globally, as industrialized countries export toxic waste and build environmentally hazardous industrial sites in developing nations (Newton, 1996). In 1994, President Bill Clinton established the Office of Environmental Justice located in the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The EPA defines environmental justice as the "fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people, regardless of race, color, national origin or income, with respect to the development, implementation and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies" (Web site: http:/es.epa. gov/oeca/main/ej/index.html). The Office of Environmental Justice ensures that projects receiving federal funds include consultation with affected populations about environmental and health effects to screen for environmental injustice.

How are we, as psychologists, to respond to the call for environmental justice? You'd probably agree that all people should have a voice in environmental decisions, regardless of race, color, or income. However, the term environmental justice is tricky because both environmentalists and anti-environmentalists use similar moral claims to justify their opposing positions. For example, like environmentalists, anti-environmentalists appeal to claims of equal access by different groups, and responsibility to less powerful people. Anti-environmentalists argue that environmentalists are immoral when they try to ban use of public lands to farmers and ranchers because of the importance of equal access, and immoral when they promote regulations that eliminate jobs or harm communities (Clayton, 1994).

More recently, Clayton (2000) posited that environmental justice as it is used by the EPA and most others is a form of distributive justice, that is, environmental resources and problems ought to be distributed equally between different groups. Distributive justice contrasts with procedural justice, the fairness with which environmental decisions are made. Whereas environmental and anti-environmental groups dif fer on their assessment of distributive justice, all groups greatly value procedural justice. There are multiple definitions of justice, even though when we are invested in a situation, we assume that our point of view is more fair, right, and just than our opponent's, whose view we see as expedient, greedy, or selfish. Again, we are prone to make attribution errors about those who disagree with us.

Distributive justice brings up the problem of responsibilities to more distant interests, such as future generations and nonhuman species. According to the norm activation theory of altruism (Schwartz, 1977), we help (or, in this case, practice environmentally responsible behaviors) when we feel a sense of moral obligation, and when personal norms are accompanied by awareness of harmful consequences of not doing so. Many studies (Black, Stern, & Elsworth, 1985) have shown that environmental behaviors like recycling (Vining & Ebreo, 1992), yard burning (Van Liere & Dunlap, 1978), energy use, and pro-environmental attitudes (Thogersen, 1996) are predictable from activating personal norms about harmful consequences.

But harmful consequences to whom? Are we talking about other people or other species? Do future generations and nonhuman species have moral standing in questions of environmental justice? Or is it enough to concern ourselves with the underprivileged human beings who are currently alive, which is a big number in and of itself? Here our question about the ESA is directly at stake. How wide is our net of moral responsibility, and what psychological mechanisms determine to whom we feel responsible?

Opotow (1990, 1994, 2001; Opotow & Weiss, 2000) argued that nobody has an infinitely wide scope of justice, and those who fall outside it will be seen as expendable, undeserving, or irrelevant. We deny responsibility to those who are excluded from our scope in three ways (Opotow, 2001):

• We deny outcome severity (use double standards, conceal harmful outcomes).

• We deny stakeholder inclusion (practice outgroup prejudice, dehu-manization).

• We deny self-involvement (diffuse responsibility, use self-righteous comparisons).

Thus, when Deborah smashes a carpenter ant in her kitchen, she rarely feels guilty because those ants fall outside her scope of justice. As she kills them, she frequently thinks about how annoying they are (they actually eat her log cabin house and sometimes they bite her), and she denies their stakeholder inclusion. Obviously her house and its other inhabitants (e.g., her husband, dog, and cat) are inside, and the ants are outside, her scope of justice.

Why do we draw this arbitrary line? Deep ecologists (Devall & Sessions, 1985) argue that we shouldn't, that other species have just as much right to their place on the planet as human beings. We will revisit this idea in chapter 7 as we look at holistic psychology. For now, let us just say that we believe the work of both Clayton and Opotow should humble us. It is not easy to notice environmental injustice, but once we do, our job is not done. If we cannot hear the moral claims of those who disagree with us, or those who lay outside our scope of justice, and cannot notice the ways in which our own moral judgments rest on denial and moral exclusion, we will be unlikely to resolve environmental conflicts.

Environmental conflict rests on differing views of environmental justice, and resolution will require that we work collaboratively with players who hold different models than our own. Actively participating in group discussion and taking alternative perspectives is crucial for constructive resolution of differences (Gregory, 2000). Hard as it may be to resolve disagreements about environmental problems, we will need to build positive relationships with opponents and proceed with respect, humility, and open hearts, while remaining focused on our responsibility to pursue justice.

Is this asking too much? S. Kaplan (2000) argued that conceptualizing environmental behavior as altruism, and depending on people's sense of moral responsibility is problematic. Because the definition of altruism includes a component of self-sacrifice, it communicates a dour future of discomfort as we confront environmental problems. To the extent that environmentalists call on self-sacrifice, they can promote feelings of helplessness and futility (Roszak, 1994). Indeed, K. R. Lord (1994) showed that people are more likely to recycle when messages are framed in positive, rather than negative, terms. The role of emotional responses in mediating changes in environmental behaviors has not received much empirical attention yet (Vining & Ebreo, 2002), although it seems plausible that emotions can facilitate as well as get in the way of our solving problems (Vining & Ebreo, 1992).

To offset helplessness and despair, S. Kaplan (2000) suggested participating in problem-solving groups. In other words, an alternative to the altruism and morality framework is to arrange conditions so that people feel empowered by their successes. From a social psychological perspective, the norms of hope and vision that groups can supply are important sources of support for environmentally responsible behavior. We will have more to say about this point in our last chapter.

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