Procrastinating on climate change

Recent climate reports from the United Nations and the U.S. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have indicated that we are running out of time before life as we know it is altered. Yet instead of the all-out response called for by these reports, the U.S. has pulled out of the Paris Accord, while Paris itself has seen riots spurred by an increased fuel tax. China continues to construct new coal-fired power plants. We use plastic bags and remotely start our cars 15 minutes early to warm them up. Why are we not taking steps to curb climate change? 

flooded parking garage with floating life preservers

Joseph Kable, Baird Term Professor of Psychology, studies how people make (or don’t make) decisions. He calls the circumstances around climate change a “perfect storm of features” that’s leading us to not act. 

According to Kable, humans value future outcomes less than immediate consequences. Our caveperson ancestors were designed to worry about where their next meal was coming from, not whether their cell phone use would drown New Orleans. 

Kable does experiments in which he offers people $20 now or $40 in three months. Half take the money now. “So that’s your own self three months from now,” he says. If we can’t put off a reward to benefit our future selves, it’s hard to expect us to do so to benefit others decades from now: “People’s bias is to just not care.” 

Read more at Omnia magazine

This story is by Susan Ahlborn.