Post No.: 0060
Human-accelerated climate change is slow and isn’t something anyone has any complete and unequivocal personal experience of in their own single lifetime (in the sense that it’s not like e.g. recognising day and night and our evolved circadian rhythm and melatonin cycles, or the changing seasons of the year), and so humans haven’t evolved to instinctively recognise such a slow, long-term change and to account for it. Any changes from one year to the next will likely be reasoned as mere natural fluctuations.
It’s not innate for us to think in terms of typical geological timeframes (e.g. tens of thousands or millions of years). Many individuals even struggle to do what’s best for their own health within their own lifetimes (e.g. obesity, excessive alcohol consumption)! We’ve not evolved to live whilst instinctively prioritising what’s best for the future far beyond our own present lives – not even a hundred years down the line, which would’ve been pointless when average life expectancies were considerably shorter for our ancestors. But far future human-caused or aggravated threats are real.
So an overall, long-term climate change trend is not something we can recognise via our own instincts – we cannot trust our own instincts to recognise dangers we didn’t evolve to be concerned about since these dangers can only really be detected across multiple generations over time rather than within each single generation (it’s somewhat like evolution is still affecting the human species right now – not that any single generation or two can detect anything is happening at all). Natural genetic evolution also only reacts to (it does not anticipate) environmental changes and is too slow in this context too (e.g. a future species branched from humans isn’t going to evolve gills in anticipation of a rising-sea-level world in the far future. Lots of humans will need to die in natural selection first, along with the right chance mutations, before that happens – if that’ll ever happen).
These are therefore a couple of limitations of natural evolution. Genetically-evolved instincts don’t anticipate far future (as in multiple generations down the line) implications or preparations in advance very well – especially for humans because most human ancestors probably weren’t too sure about surviving even the next couple of weeks or months hence had far greater present priorities to focus on, along with the way that the human world has changed so dramatically since then (e.g. industrialisation) even though human genetically-evolved instincts have not.
So natural creatures don’t evolve to see or care for the very long-term very well. Only scientifically-conducted inquiries and critical, evidence-based thinking allows us to work out the far future, and we should rationally go with the prediction that has the highest probability, and act according to the prediction with the highest probability in concert with the gravest costs. The calculated prediction that the overwhelming majority of independent climate scientists broadly agree on is that continuing our current rate of greenhouse gas emissions (e.g. carbon dioxide) will result in harmful outcomes for life on Earth, including for human civilisation (e.g. rising water levels and more arid inland areas will result in mass human displacements, which could cause conflicts for land and other limited resources).
So we cannot rely on our instincts here – we must rely on sound scientific research! Animals in wild nature go extinct all the time because their instincts were ultimately insufficient to keep them alive – maybe the first animals to trust in scientific research to anticipate the future and to act upon it can vastly prolong their own existence?
Please understand that we can sometimes predict distant outcomes more confidently than less distant ones, just like one can predict one will highly likely be dead within five hundred years’ time but cannot predict with a similar level of certainty how one will be in five years’ time.
A lot of people also assume that nature is always good and benign for us – even natural disasters don’t cause as much fear as terrorism to us. ‘What you see is all (you think) there is’ too, and so people born around today (when ‘today’ is just a miniscule slice of time between a vast history and a vast future) tend to think that the human species is doing pretty well and the environment seems fine too, hence assume this state has always been like this and will always be like this. This also means that many people, generally in richer countries, don’t realise the present environmental changes happening in other parts of the world – the world is far bigger than just where we personally live so just because you don’t personally think you’ve felt a change yet where you are, a lot of people across the world have already experienced the negative effects of climate change. The poorest countries tend to be the ones first and hardest hit by climate change. Meow.
People also have their own biased worldviews e.g. egalitarians (who prefer a society where wealth, power and opportunity are more broadly distributed, including towards future generations) are generally more concerned about climate change, whilst ardent capitalists (who primarily care about industry and profit maximisation so don’t want anything to curb this or their activities) are generally not. One’s worldview biases are the most influential and intractable reasons for any kind of denial – in this case of climate change.
If people don’t like the proposed solutions (e.g. increased regulations on their relatively immediate and more certain self-interested pain-aversive and pleasure-seeking behaviours), they may simply rationalise and deny that the problem exists at all or that it’s over-exaggerated, because they don’t want these solutions put into force. This alleviates their internal cognitive dissonance and allows them to sleep at night – it’s incompatible to think that one is a good and moral person, who believes there is a real problem, but then does nothing about or even exacerbates this problem, thus to uphold the belief that one is a good and moral person, who apparently does nothing or makes the problem worse, one is biased and incentivised to try to show that the fuzzy problem is actually fake! It’s also difficult to work for an employer who is in a certain industry at the same time as disagreeing with what they do and what they stand for, so this internal conflict can be rationalised away too.
Few people, whatever they do, personally believe they are evil/are doing evil things, because people have an almost infinite ability to convince themselves via rationalisation that their attitudes and actions are justified. People can therefore do almost whatever they want to do while still perceiving themselves as good and moral people. (Note that ‘rationalisation’ is not the same as being ‘rational’ – rationalising something is an attempt to convince oneself that something is rational and justified when it might not be when critically compared against the preponderance of evidence or logic. And there’s no easier person to convince than oneself.)
Through ‘confirmation bias’ (the tendency to search for, interpret, focus on and remember information in a way that confirms one’s current pre-existing preconceptions rather than challenges or changes them; this is a very prevalent and pernicious human bias across all kinds of contexts) – one will prejudicially prefer to take one’s information from sources that’ll support one’s already-existing worldviews and ignore, dismiss or downplay information and sources that disconfirm them (‘what you see is all (you think) there is’ also means that ignorance is indeed bliss for oneself).
We more naturally behave like a lawyer who starts off with our desired conclusion first then tries to find evidence to support this conclusion, rather than like a good scientist or researcher who might have an initial hypothesis but as objectively as possible looks at all the evidence available first then ultimately lets the overall weight of this evidence guide what conclusion to subsequently take, whether one will like this conclusion or not.
This is all in order to maintain the coherence of one’s worldviews – biases (which can be conscious, subconscious or unconscious) make it extremely difficult to communicate with and persuade people using just factual information. Political biases are equivalent to any religious or religious-type belief, including the act of reinterpreting philosophies or constitutions to suit one’s current agendas. Stubborn political worldviews are equivalent to stubborn religious worldviews. If one feels one’s (particularly deep or long-held) worldviews are being challenged, one can internally and externally spin information to keep them intact (e.g. that something bad will actually be good for us all!) Of course we should take each argument on a case-by-case basis, but scientific data or common morality can even be put aside or rationalised away in order to preserve one’s political biases/worldviews – such as being dead set against government interference, which can lead to denying that there are any substantial free market failures at all (the extensive negative externalities of pollution in this case), for instance.
We do our best to hold tightly onto our worldviews because so much of our personal identity, ethics, credibility, social networks and other beliefs are tied up in maintaining them. Some people feel that changing their minds will be viewed as being weak or disloyal to their own existing social networks, and being socially marginalised from a group we’ve long belonged to is not something we normally want to experience. Most of all, we don’t like to feel (or admit) that we’ve ever been so fundamentally wrong thus we’ll do absolutely anything to hang onto the belief that we’ve always been fundamentally right for the sake of our own public reputation and self-concept.
The answer seems to be that we must appeal to a person’s emotions, values and interests (e.g. to appeal to an ardent capitalist, highlight the economic opportunities of renewable energies). This likely still won’t change their views (humans are far from rational creatures!) but may at least get them to change their behaviours.
Meow. Furrywisepuppy and I are loyal to no political party, we don’t get paid to say or withhold anything, we have no special interests apart from living on this planet and caring about the children of today and the future, and only follow the scientific evidence-based arguments – so can only sensibly come to the conclusion that rapid anthropogenic global warming and climate change is a real as well as pressing problem. All our furry derrières are at risk if we don’t look after this apparently one-of-a-kind planet that looks after us!