We don’t care about the future


Image: Ariel Molina/EPA

At Humankind we carry out lots of research understanding how people think and feel about social issues, including the climate crisis. In line with thinking from lead behavioural economists, we find that typically people struggle to be motivated by future rewards or fears. This seems especially true in discussing the environment, when the impact of climate disasters is not perceived to be an immediate or direct threat.

This week we learned of a new evolutionary perspective on climate inaction and what holds us back. Speaking at a UCL lunch time lecture, Dr Kate Jeffery, Professor of Behavioural Neuroscience at UCL, states that reluctant to act because the ‘brain has spent nearly 200,000 years worrying only about our present immediate needs’ - so warmth, food, reproduction. The measurement and concept of time itself only began within the past few hundred years, and with it, we started to consider the future.

In addition to future-blindness, we are also bad at contemplating ‘slow change’, preferring to take notice of fast changes, and we struggle to imagine big numbers (eg. wiping out billions of species). These insights have big consequences for organisations and charities communicating on social issues.

So what will help us overcome this challenge from an evolutionary perspective? According to Dr Jeffery, it’s our ability to imagine outcomes, communicate with each other, problem solve, and pass on ideas through storytelling.

Related content:

For more on storytelling for survival we love: Yuval Noah Harari’s 'Sapiens' and '21 lessons for the 21st Century'.

For more on the arrival of ‘time’ as a concept and what it means for how we use it today - we enjoyed this podcast by communications and business Guru, Seth Godin.

#climate #future #neuroscience #behaviouraleconomics #publicperception

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