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evolutionary psychology and global warming October 14, 2006

Posted by Sharath Rao in ideas.

When I talked about the possible joys of motherhood/fatherhood in the previous post here, I didnt think about this article. Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert talked about before here, thinks there is a misconception about the joys of fatherhood – not that there is no such thing but its there for the reasons other than we think ? You might have to muster all your intellectual honesty and courage to read through his little essay without cursing him, something he is learning to get used to.

Whatever you might think about the above article, Dan has written something very interesting on global warming. Read the whole article if you can. He argues :

Why are we less worried about the more likely disaster?

First, global warming lacks a mustache. No, really. We are social mammals whose brains are highly specialized for thinking about others. Understanding what others are up to β€” what they know and want, what they are doing and planning β€” has been so crucial to the survival of our species that our brains have developed an obsession with all things human.

The second reason why global warming doesn’t put our brains on orange alert is that it doesn’t violate our moral sensibilities. It doesn’t cause our blood to boil (at least not figuratively) because it doesn’t force us to entertain thoughts that we find indecent, impious or repulsive.

The third reason why global warming doesn’t trigger our concern is that we see it as a threat to our futures β€” not our afternoons. Like all animals, people are quick to respond to clear and present danger, which is why it takes us just a few milliseconds to duck when a wayward baseball comes speeding toward our eyes.

Because we barely notice changes that happen gradually, we accept gradual changes that we would reject if they happened abruptly. The density of Los Angeles traffic has increased dramatically in the last few decades, and citizens have tolerated it with only the obligatory grumbling. Had that change happened on a single day last summer, Angelenos would have shut down the city, called in the National Guard and lynched every politician they could get their hands on.

Not that everything he mentions here is new and something we dont know. But I am happy for two things – first, the fresh perspective it brings to the global warming debate, imputing blame on our psychological makeup rather than our political affiliations and secondly, hmm…oh, I forgot the second reason by the time I got here. Darn ! Maybe fill this in later !

I dont believe I claimed something to make me happy but dont remmeber what it was. Well, maybe its like sometimes its hard to recall your favorite song.



1. Anonymous - October 16, 2006

“Why are we less worried about the more likely disaster?”

— Global warming is a problem of the future with no foreseen immediate consequences.. and I guess people have plenty of important things/problems in life that need immediate attention, therefore safely rejecting the global warming issue.

2. Sharath Rao - October 18, 2006

Couldnt agree more anonymous πŸ™‚

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