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How brain biases prevent climate action

http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20190304-human-evolution-means-we-can-tackle-climate-change

bbc.com

How brain biases prevent climate action
We know that climate change is happening. We also know that it's the result of increased carbon emissions from human activities like land degradation and the burning of fossil fuels. And we know that it's urgent. A recent report from international climate experts tells us that we are likely to reach 1.5C of average global warming in as little as 11 years.

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Our lack of concern for future generations

Our lack of concern for future generations

Evolutionary theory suggests that we care most about just a few generations of family members: our great-grandparents to great-grandchildren. 

While we may understand what needs to be done to address climate change, it’s hard for us to see how the sacrifices required for generations existing beyond this short time span are worth it.

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The bystander effect

The bystander effect

We tend to believe that someone else will deal with a crisis

This developed for good reason: if a threatening wild animal is lurking at the edge of our hunter-gatherer group, it’s a waste of effort for every single member to spring into action. Today, however, this leads us to assume (often wrongly) that our leaders must be doing something about the crisis of climate change. And the larger the group, the stronger this bias becomes.

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Climate change and human behavior

Climate change and human behavior

We know that climate change is happening. We also know that it’s the result of human activities. And we know that it’s urgent. But that information hasn’t been enough to change our behaviours on a scale great enough to stop climate change. And a big part of the reason is our own evolution: no other species has evolved with such an extraordinary capacity to create and solve such situations.

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Evolutionary upside

Evolutionary upside

Our biological evolution hasn’t just hindered us from addressing the challenge of climate change. It’s also equipped us with capacities to overcome them: we can recall past events and anticipate future scenarios. We can imagine and predict multiple, complex outcomes and identify actions needed in the present to achieve desired outcomes in the future. And individually we often prove able to act on these plans. 

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Brain biases and climate change

Brain biases and climate change

We overestimate threats that are less likely but easier to remember, like terrorism, and underestimate more complex threats, like climate change.

We are very bad at understanding statistical trends and long-term changes, because we have evolved to pay attention to immediate threats. 

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Existential Angst And Our Future

Existential Angst And Our Future
  • We are increasingly faced with global issues related to politics, climate change, war, and other existential threats.
  • The normal tendency is to worry endlessly and repeatedly think...

Anxiety Due To Climate Change

The American Psychological Association (APA) defines Eco-Anxiety as a mental health issue due to climate change. This and other existential threats are processed in the anterior cingulate cortex(ACC), a region of our brain that is also responsible for our behaviour.

Eco-Anxiety cannot be treated as it is not a specific mental health problem (yet), and we need to calm our mind by taking affirmative action. We need to concentrate on what can be controlled, taking step-by-step action, no matter how small it is, like recycling or buying second-hand, to minimize our environmental impact on the planet.

Steps To Overcome Eco-Anxiety

  • Restrict our news consumption.
  • Spend more time with nature
  • Read a diverse range of material.
  • Spend time with friends and loved ones.
  • Be aware of the effects of constant worry on your health.
  • Eat healthily.
  • Sleep well.
  • Get adequate exercise.

Suppressing Emotions

We usually adopt cold and technical solutions to the problems being faced by the world, with little regard to 'unstable' feelings like passion and emotion. As a species, we have always s...

Emotionally Healthy

Emotions can help us handle complex issues, and are an essential part of rational thinking; they are helping us envision future scenarios and this is called pragmatic prospection.

An 'emotionally healthy' mindset can be developed by the self-transcendent emotions like empathy, gratitude and wonder, which are focused on others.

Emotional Rescue

The world's problems like global warming, air and plastic pollution, and terrorism cannot be solved without empathy. A lack of empathy makes us focus on short-term goals, and our greed, ignoring the larger, more difficult problems that need to be tackled

Even if someone does have empathy, it is limited to one's inner circle, and not towards humanity in general. Our empathy needs to be towards the entire planet and its inhabitants. The current age should harness humanity's emotional side if our future generations want to remember us as 'good' ancestors.

Explaining Science

Explaining Science

There is a lot of misinformation about scientific knowledge among the general public. Scientists assume that by explaining science to people they can inform the defend science from public misinform...

Science Literacy

Studies prove that merely increasing science literacy straightforwardly is not going to change mindsets. Simply knowing more and lecturing about it is not going to convince the audience.

Scientists should consider how they are deploying knowledge. Facts aren't enough, and they need to tap into the emotions of the audience for fruitful interaction.

Communicating about Science

Strategy and rhetorician skills need to be deployed, as merely lecturing like a university professor isn't going to do any good: 

  • Simply explaining science does not tell the audience why it matters to them, and doesn't 'hard sell' the purpose or the motivation of the right information.
  • Communicating science without first gaining the audience's trust is bound to be a vain exercise.
  • Trying to debunk a myth by repeating it and saying it's false, doesn't do any good, as the audience ends up remembering the myth only. A better way is to reframe the issue.