Why humans are so bad at thinking about climate change

Why humans are so bad at thinking about climate change


“We are hurtling toward the day when climate
change could be irreversible.” “Rising sea levels already altering this nation’s
coast.” “China’s capital is choking in its worst
pollution of the year.” “5% of species will become extinct.” “Sea levels rising, glaciers melting.” Okay. Enough. I get it. It’s not like I don’t care about polar
bears and melting ice caps. I’m a conservation scientist, so of course
I care. I’ve dedicated my entire career to this. But over the years, one thing has become clear
to me: We need to change the way we talk about climate change. This doom-and-gloom messaging just isn’t
working; we seem to want to tune it out. And this fear, this guilt, we know from psychology
is not conducive to engagement. It’s rather the opposite. It makes people passive, because when I feel
fearful or guilt-full, I will withdraw from the issue and try to think about something
else that makes me feel better. And with a problem this overwhelming, it’s
pretty easy to just turn away and kick the can down the road. Somebody else can deal with it. So it’s no wonder that scientists and policymakers
have been struggling with this issue too. So I like to say that climate change is the
policy problem from hell. You almost couldn’t design a worse problem
as a fit with our underlying psychology or the way our institutions make decisions. Many Americans continue to think of climate
change as a distant problem: distant in time, that the impacts won’t be felt for a generation
or more; and distant in space, that this is about polar bears or maybe some developing
countries. Again, it’s not like we don’t care about
these things — it’s just such a complicated problem. But the thing is, we’ve faced enormous,
scary climate issues before. Remember the hole in the ozone layer? As insurmountable as that seemed in the 1970s
and ’80s, we were able to wrap our heads around that and take action. People got this very simple, easy to understand,
concrete image of this protective layer around the Earth, kind of like a roof, protecting
us, in this case, from ultraviolet light, which by the way has the direct health consequence
of potentially giving you skin cancer. Okay, so now you’ve got my attention. And so then they came up with this fabulous
term, the “ozone hole.” Terrible problem, great term. People also got a concrete image of how we
even ended up with this problem. For decades, chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs,
were the main ingredient in a lot of products, like aerosol spray cans. Then scientists discovered that CFCs were
actually destroying the atmospheric ozone. People could look at their own hairspray and
say, “Do I want to destroy the planet because of my hairspray? I mean, god no.” And so what’s interesting is that sales of
hairspray and those kinds of products and underarm aerosols started dropping quite dramatically. People listened to scientists and took action. Now scientists predict that the hole in the
ozone layer will be healed around 2050. That’s actually pretty amazing. And while stopping the use of one product
is actually pretty easy, climate change caused by greenhouse gases … that’s much trickier. Because the sources are more complicated,
and for the most part, they’re totally invisible. Right now, there is CO2 pouring out of tailpipes,
there is CO2 pouring out of buildings, there is CO2 pouring out of smokestacks, but
you can’t see it. The fundamental cause of this problem is largely
invisible to most of us. I mean, if CO2 was black, we would have dealt
with this issue a long time ago. So CO2 touches every part of our lives — our
cars, the places we work, the food we eat. For now, let’s just focus on one thing:
our energy use. How do we make that visible? That was the initial goal of UCLA’s Engage
project, one of the nation’s largest behavioral experiments in energy conservation. What we’re trying to do is to figure out how
to frame information about electricity usage so that people save energy and conserve electricity. The idea is that electricity is relatively
invisible to people. The research team outfitted part of a student
housing complex with meters that tracked real-time usage of appliances and then sent them weekly
reports. So you can see how much energy the stove used
versus the dishwasher or the fridge. We realized, because of this project, the
fridge was like the monster. So lucky for them, their landlord upgraded
their fridge to an energy-efficient one. They also learned other energy-saving tips,
like unplugging their dishwasher when not in use and air-drying their clothes during
the summer months. And researchers, in turn, discovered where
people were willing to cut back. The Engage project wanted to know what types
of messaging could motivate people to change their behavior. We wanted to see over time over a year and
with repeated messages, how do people, behave? How does that impact the consumer behavior? And what we found is that it’s very different. Some households were sent personalized emails
with their energy bill about how they could save money; others learned how their energy
usage impacted the environment and children’s health. Those who received messages about saving money
did nothing. It was totally ineffective because electricity
is relatively cheap. But emails sent that linked the amount of
pollutants produced to rates of childhood asthma and cancer — well, those led to an
8% drop in energy use, and 19% in households with kids. Now, in a separate study, researchers brought
social competition into the mix. First, they hung posters around a dorm building
to publicly showcase how students were really doing: red dots for energy wasters, green
for those doing a good job, and a shiny gold star for those going above and beyond. This social pressure approach led to a 20%
reduction in energy use. This strategy was also used at Paulina’s
complex, and it definitely brought out her competitive streak. For me, the competition was what motivated
me, because seeing your apartment number and telling you that you are doing at the average,
but you are not the best, was like, Why? I’m doing everything you are telling me
to do. I always wanted the gold star, because it
was like, “Oh, my god, I want to be like the less consumption of energy in the whole
building.” And psychology studies have proved this. We are social creatures, and as individualistic
as we can be, turns out we do care about how we compare to others. And yes, we do like to be the best. Some people don’t want to say, Oh, I’m like
the average. No, my usage is different and I want to be
able to act on it. And people can act on it because with these
meters, they can now see their exact impact. A company called Opower is playing with this
idea of social competition. They work with over 100 utility companies
to provide personalized energy reports to millions of customers around the world. Now consumers can not only see their energy
use but how it compares to their neighbors’. Like the UCLA study found, this subtle social
pressure encourages consumers to save energy. It’s been so effective that in 2016, Opower
was able to generate the equivalent of two terawatt-hours of electricity savings. That’s enough to power every home in Miami
for more than a year. And they’re not alone. Even large companies are tapping into behavioral
science to move the dial. Virgin Atlantic Airways gave a select group
of pilots feedback on their fuel use. Over the course of a year, they collectively
saved over 6,800 tons of fuel by making some simple changes:
Adjusting their altitudes, routes, and speed reduced their carbon dioxide emissions by
over 21,000 tons. These behavioral “nudges” do seem to be
advancing how we as a society deal with some pretty complicated climate change issues,
but it turns out we’re just getting started. There is no “quick fix.” We need people changing their companies, changing
their business models, changing the products and services they provide. This is about broader-scale change. And part of this change includes embracing
what makes us human. That it can’t just be a guilt trip about
dying polar bears or driving around in gas guzzlers. We need to talk about our wins, as well — like
how we’re making progress, really being aware of our energy use, and taking advantage
of that competitive spirit we all have in order to really move us from a state of apathy
to action. Global warming is by far the biggest issue
of our time. Climate Lab is a new series from Vox and the
University of California, and we’ll be exploring some surprising ways we can tackle this problem. If you want to learn more, head to climate.universityofcalifornia.edu.

100 Replies to “Why humans are so bad at thinking about climate change”

  1. Dont understand, so the competitive sistem that we’re in, the same one that messed up things in the first place (call it “modernism” if you want), is the final solution?
    Kind of like healing a cut with the same knife you cut with

  2. Another question: that reference of the air sprays and the “ozone hole”, was that a thing at a global scale or only in the US? I find hard to believe that a product used by of one or some countries, only used in a specific period of human history, could be the cause of a massive “hole” in earths composition.

  3. okay the ones who believe it and think there is a problem! :1 stop using a car ,don't go on holidays ,don't use lights /batteries/ i know you wont!

  4. Does it really matters if I buy a new fridge for $1000 if China and most other contries are still burning coal tomorrow? It maybe would be better if we had a brand like CE or really anything that could help us consumers how we're buying affects the climate with which will include both from what the energy source of the company but also 80% of all the plastic island in the ocean are "provided" by only 4 countries all in Asia.

  5. As a right wing libertarian, I do believe climate change is a problem, but the politicians can’t be trusted with more money and be able to control so much more production control as well. Less free market, less freedom. Free market capitalism is our best bet, it’s worked for so long, why change it now?

  6. Maybe it’s real maybe it’s not I’m just saying the ice age was real and before that dinosaurs roamed the planet in a warm environment the earth goes in cycles of heating and cooling and rn its heating if green house gasses contribute then I’d say it’s probably very little if not at all

  7. Myself and a lot of my friends are millennials and we're very aware of climate change and have thus started making changes in our lives to lesson our impact. I think it's the big businesses who don't see it in their immediate economic interest that 1) do the most damage and 2) are less likely to change.

  8. Thank you for putting together this information. One concern and question I have is, What will happen to the Earth's environment by opening and drilling in the Alaskan Reserves?

  9. Believe you me down in though, though we are kinda used to the hot weather, it is hard to miss the notch increase in temperature…yet still, nobody seems to
    mind.

  10. I wonder if the study would yield the same results if it was conducted in a developing country? People's priorities change in accordance with their context, and most families here can't even afford to buy a fridge.

  11. We are all in the same boat. Fear is a poor adviser. Do what you love to do. Do it like there is no tomorrow. Do what you love like there is only here and now. And whenever you say goodbye to someone, in your heart, take goodbye seriously.

  12. I am one of those people who do not like the cold. I am for global warming. A two-degree rise is great for those of us who hate the cold.

  13. Yesss!!! Talking about the progress and the good things happening as well is so important!!🙏🙏😌 We can do it yall!!🙋

  14. The climate brigade including Thunberg would be far better spreading awareness about the loss of 40% of the world's natural forestation (according to WWF) and its effect on weather patterns and more importantly, its primordial role in the carbon cycle. In case u didnt know CO2 is not a pollutant. Or didnt u know we are all carbon based lifeform totally dependent on CO2 to generate plant food, marine crustaceans and sustain forests. She has no idea I'm sure that photosynthesis requires CO2 to produce oxygen.
    Nor is she aware that crop yields can be improved by upto 200% if CO2 went from 400 to 800ppm.
    Can I suggest all fearful misled teenagers listen to what some real scientists like William Happer, Roy Spencer and Patrick Moore say about CO2 being in a drought. But from what I read of institutions like IPCC trying to shut down debate on climate, they are very careful at avoiding facts contrary to their political agenda.

  15. The problem is not in our energy consumption…it is in where we are getting are energy from. There is no profit in solar energy.

  16. This is actually amazing, giving people like a reward or something to recognize their work towards saving the environment should be implemented everywhere, this is what human like, recognition of their efforts!

  17. the video is a bad premise. we're bad at thinking about lots of things because our media is a blend of lies, distraction, confusion & other unhelpful stuff. 3 years after Britains Brexit began – 3 years of non-stop 7 day a week Brexit coverage on the TV – & still no-one's the wiser about the actual substance of britains relationship with the EU. what are we leaving? what are we putting in it's place? which of our models or theories best describes the current british-EU relationship in a way that covers most of its complexity? we literally have nothing like this at all. we're not even thinking on this level.

    TV (especially the BBC) do not cover things in a way that's breeds understanding, in any way. i'm not even sure they know how at this point. lies & misdirection seems to be all they're capable of.

    3 years of constant TV noise & no-one's any the wiser!!!! that's a stunning achievement for Saurons media system, by anyone's yardstick. it does expose TV for what it really is, at the same time, should anyone be looking around for evidence

  18. This human sees the hoax behind climate change. It's just an excuse for countries to tax the people. What is throwing money at the government going to save the planet? The UN is playing on the ignorance of the chicken littles of the world. 👎👎

  19. Interglacial Period – A geological interval of WARMER global average temperature

    lasting thousands of years that separates consecutive glacial periods within an ice age. The current Holocene interglacial began 11,700 years ago.

  20. To all the CO2 doomsayers, life couldn't exist without CO2, as crops, plants,
    tree and vegetation intake CO2 during ………………… PHOTOSYNTHESIS.

  21. We don’t realize the destruction we are causing, if we felt the damage we were inflicting upon the earth, we would seize this venomous behavior

  22. Why can't businessmen find a way of making huge money with renewable fuels and electricity? It is an opportunity which the enterprising can certainly make the most of. India: Climate change is accompanied by unbearable pollution. Also there are the traffic woes leading to inordinate delays and road rage. So what is the solution? Small and tiny vehicles eg quadricycle cars running on solar powered electricity. Can't business lobby for the needed changes, eg recharging facilities? Or invest in these as a complementary economic good?

    Can we do without refrigerators? Yes some of us can, because we have home delivery of perishables everyday or we can pick up small quantities every day. This is especially true for retired persons who do not live far from shopping complexes. Its not that tough to change. As for animal agriculture…You don't have to eat cows pigs and goats you know! It is so very cruel. Have compassion and also improve your health. Remember we are not driven by instinct but by intelligence. Only the species of human beings can change radically.

  23. You can cut down travel, eat local foods, have less kids, stop eating red meat, installl solar panels to power your home and your ELECTRIC car, install a small cooler to replace your large fridge. Its easy… a lot of us are doing it. Check out tiny home movement. They vermicompost ALL their filth from food scraps to sewage. Doing some of these things will help you as well as humanity at large, so say a yes please! God Bless!

  24. as much as it helps, the solution can't just rely on individual people's opinions and virtue, we need world-leading governments and companies to change in their policy itself, essentially eliminating the option to ignore the problem for convenience

  25. Download ecosia!! It’s exactly like google but every 45 searches the company plants a tree!! They painted about 60 million trees

  26. every one is complaining about how people arn't caring/ not doing doing anything but to those who are complaining, what are you doing to help with climate clamge?

  27. An easy way to help is to use ecosia. It donates it's reneuve to help plant trees. Also it supplies jobs to people in countries that really need it!

  28. BTW this is for all of you to ponder…How long have the current glaciers been on earth? Three million years. They formed at the start of our CURRENT ice age and when they melt guess what??? The ice age officially ends. But as long as glaciers exist we are still in an ICE AGE. Duhh. Isn't it so obvious…how can so many people not understand.
    I totally realize that when the ICE AGE ends it will be devastating, I'm not arguing that point. I am frustrated with the lack of real science being used when explaining our current climate.

  29. People are being ridiculous again, there's hundreds of species have perished and you don't even know they. Now they say bla bla bla

  30. We're fortunately making progress. Gen Z is the largest generation, at least here in the States, and we are the most educated and environmentally conscious. A lion's share of us will be able to vote in the coming years, and we'll vote for people who will actually do something. Good always finds a way to prevail, it always has. Just remember, we sent a man to space in 8 years. We can do this in 11 years.

  31. Turns out we are a lot like frogs. If frog is in water that suddenly boils, it will jump out. If the water heats up slowly, the frog will slowly boil alive. The human brain has gotten much bigger and better at making tools since the days when our ancestors were froglike amphibians, but on a fundamental level they haven't changed much.

  32. Buy yourself a pair of aluminum cutlery, straws, etc and use paper bags. It's simple, people. One change leads to another.

  33. I legit searched for this like why? Everyone agrees on it but why can’t we do something about it..

  34. Answer to video is humans have selfish pursuits confined within their puny perception and won’t act on things that don’t effect them until they actually are.

  35. As a person who tutor children for living I can totally agree with that. If you show your child what he did wrong, she will do it again. If you show your child how to do it right, he will adjust to your advice and try to do it the right way

  36. 👽💀👺🙀. We need to eat babies says a woman to Alexander Ocasio Cortez ; the climate change global warming people. Are destroying our planet 🌎. Using toxic chem trails , that kills humans animals bees 🐝 crops , the United nation , climate change , global warming people , using Harrp used for hurricane strength , your eating mixing children. Child human trafficking. Steam cells in food and soda 🥤. Human flesh in McDonald’s hamburger 🍔. Evern selling body parts. The toxic chem trails. Are BABEL WORSHIP. The chemicals in it. , it’s them that invented. The nukes and all these chemicals . THEY CAUSED THE GLOBAL WARMING , your destroying our 🌎.

  37. Just because you and a community are trying to stop climate change doesn't mean it'll help.

    You can ride bike, eat less meat, used bags instead of plastic and take 5 minutes shower but it's still not gonna help the globe.

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