How brain biases prevent climate action
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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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.
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.
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.
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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We live in a time when all scientific knowledge (the safety of fluoride, vaccines, climate change, moon landing, etc.) faces coordinated and vehement resistance.
Our existence is invaded by science and technology as never before. For many of us, this brings comfort and rewards, but this existence is also more complicated and sometimes agitated.
Our lives are full of real and imaginary risks, and distinguishing between them isn’t easy. We have to be able to decide what to believe and how to act on that.
“Science is not a body of facts. Science is a method for deciding whether what we choose to believe has a basis in the laws of nature or not.”
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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.
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...
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.
Strategy and rhetorician skills need to be deployed, as merely lecturing like a university professor isn't going to do any good: