Time To Care About Climate Change

A pile of debris from Hurricane Ian rises behind a line of people waiting to vote in Fort Myers, Fla., in November 2022. Research suggests support for some climate policies increases immediately after climate-driven disasters such as Ian.
Rebecca Blackwell/AP

If you are not (yet) concerned about climate change there is no time like the present:

How our perception of time shapes our approach to climate change

Most people are focused on the present: today, tomorrow, maybe next year. Fixing your flat tire is more pressing than figuring out if you should use an electric car. Living by the beach is a lot more fun than figuring out when your house will be underwater because of sea level rise.

That basic human relationship with time makes climate change a tricky problem.

“I consider climate change the policy problem from hell because you almost couldn’t design a worse fit for our underlying psychology, or our institutions of decision-making,” says Anthony Leiserowitz, the director of the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication.

Our obsession with the present obscures the future

Those institutions — including companies and governments that ultimately have the power to dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions — can be even more obsessed with the present than individuals are.

For example, says Leiserowitz, many companies are focused on quarterly earnings and growth. That helps drive short-term behavior, such as leasing new land to drill for fossil fuels, that makes long-term climate change worse.

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