There was an opinion piece in my local paper by Daniel Gilbert (that originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times on July 2, 2006) about why we (or, our leaders) are not doing more to address global warming.
Daniel Gilbert, professor of psychology at Harvard University, claims that “the human brain evolved to respond to threats that have four features—features that terrorism has and that global warming lacks.” We clue in to (1) what other people are doing, (2) what “violates our moral sensibilities,” (3) immediate threats (rather than long-term concerns), and (4) what changes quickly (instead of slowly). Because global warming does not seem to be maliciously designed by enemy human beings to wipe us out quickly, in a way we immediately recognize as threatening, we pay little attention to it. “Global warming is a deadly threat precisely because it fails to trip the brain’s alarm, leaving us soundly asleep in a burning bed,” Gilbert writes.
But I know that I’m worried about global warming, and so are many people I know. It seems to me that plenty of people do take this seriously. They just happen to be people who are powerless to effect the kinds of change that would really address the problem.
So, why is it that the people who are in power are not paying attention, and people who are not in power are the ones who care?
Or, put another way: why is society such that power is distributed to people who are primarily concerned with their own self-interest and the short-term gains of an elite few, but withheld from those who would wish to use it for the benefit of all?
6 years ago