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How brain biases prevent climate action

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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How brain biases prevent climate action

How brain biases prevent climate action

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

bbc.com

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Key Ideas

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.

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. 

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.

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.

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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