Why humans are so bad at thinking about climate change?

Photo by Ryan Cheng on Unsplash

Originally published by Vox on 19 April 2017

When Per Espen Stoknes looked at polls going back to 1989 assessing the level of public concern about climate change in 39 different countries, he found a surprising pattern in the data. “Incredibly enough, it shows that the more certain the science becomes, the less concern we find in richer Western democracies,” he said. “How can it be that with increasing level of urgency and certainty in the science, people get less concerned?”

After further research, Stoknes, the author of What We Think About When We Try Not to Think About Global Warming, found some answers. He examined several hundred peer-reviewed social science studies and was able to isolate five main barriers that keep climate messages from engaging people, what he calls “the Five Ds”:

  1. Distance
  2. Doom
  3. Dissonance
  4. Denial
  5. iDentity.

“I had to cheat a little bit with the last D — I lost one there — but it was the closest I could get,” he admitted.

Distance deals with the fact that climate change is presented as far away, in both time and space. When climate models talk of 2050 or 2100, it seems like eons from now. We may feel for polar bears on melting ice floes, but they have little bearing on our day-to-day lives.

To Stoknes, the dissonance problem might be an even bigger deal: What we actually do every day conflicts with what we know we should do. “It makes us feel a little bit like hypocrites because I know it’s important, I shouldn’t do this, but yet we do it and we do it all the time, every day: eat meat, drive a car, go by plane,” he said. […]

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Why humans are so bad at thinking about climate change