October 19, 2007
Why Global Warming Doesn't Hit Our Hearts
"Global warming doesn't affect our visceral emotions," says Harvard professor Daniel Gilbert in a session on happiness. And that's why, he acclaims that we as a society are not taking it seriously. It doesn't make us feel disgraced, dishonored or ill in the same way killing animals might or 'okaying' sex in public. Says Gilbert, "if climate change were caused by gay sex or eating puppies, Americans might just insist that we do something about it."
A very small part of our brain is responsible for thinking about the future and a very large part of our brain thinks about now, so it's not difficult to see why our brains are not concerned with the future. He notes that food and the impurity of our air has changed dramatically in our lifetime and the only reason we tolerate it is because these changes have happened one day at a time.
He's right. We tend to only respond to threats that are painful and immediate, i.e., evil people who immediately threaten our well being. Terrorism is so much closer to home so it pushes our buttons. Global warming is a threat, but what makes it a deadly threat is that it fails to trigger our alarm bells. It's a quiet enemy that has the potential to destroy life as we know it.
Andrew Zolli asks Dan Gilbert - "are we doomed to die? How would you design a reaction that works with our cognitive reactions rather than against them?" Says Gilbert, "there are no reasons why we can't rise to this occasion but there are reasons we don't. We need to be framing this issue in a way that will arouse the brains of others. We need to give this threat a human face with morals and present it in a way that is abrupt and happens quickly. These need to be threats that seem to be urgent NOW, rather than something that may affect us in the future. We have to get global warming to push hot buttons before global warming gets really hot."
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