With respect to the science of climate change, many experts regard the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change as the world’s authoritative institution. A draft summary of its forthcoming report was leaked last week describing the panel’s growing confidence that climate change is real, that it is a result of human action, and that if the world continues on its current course, it will face exceedingly serious losses and threats; all of which are conclusions consistent with the panel’s judgments from the past two decades. Why then, have so many nations not done more in response? Three purely psychological reasons why humans do not fear climate change.
1. Climate change is difficult to associate with any particular tragedy or disaster, making it speculative in most people’s minds as a serious risk.
2. There are no obvious devils or demons — no individuals who intend to create the harms associated with climate change, making public outrage much harder to fuel.
3. Human beings are far more attentive to immediate threats than to long-term ones.
In this light, it should not be surprising if people don’t get much exercised by the IPCC’s forthcoming report. All the obstacles are daunting but the world is unlikely to make much progress on climate change until the barrier of human psychology is squarely addressed.
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