Members in the Media
From: Scientific American

Reducing Climate Change by Making It Less Abstract

There is no longer any doubt: the world is getting warmer, and humans are partially to blame. Unless we make significant changes at both the individual and societal level in the coming years, the consequences could be catastrophic. However, such changes are inherently difficult to enact because they cut directly against human nature. Humans are naturally prone to making short-term decisions (for instance, taking the plane rather than the train) as opposed to pursuing longer-term collective interests. In other words, they often prefer benefits in the concrete “here and now” to those that occur in the abstract future. But how can this tendency be overcome? How can concrete outcomes—cash, time, comfort—compete with a threat as abstract as climate change?

The fundamental problem is that people experience abstract information differently than concrete information. Abstract information often leads to wondering and thinking, but no action. Concrete information tends to convey greater urgency, triggering the belief that “we need to act now.” Concrete information is also more likely to activate strong emotions such as joy, frustration, or empathy. We are happier with a bonus that we receive the next day than exactly the same bonus two months from now. And concrete experiences often trigger changes in our behavior. Seeing a small leak makes us renovate our house. Hearing a friend’s story about malaria may be enough to decide not to visit a tropical country. Small-but-concrete events can have powerful effects.

Read the whole story (subscription may be required): Scientific American

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