WARNING: We’re going to start by talking about the dirty ‘C’ word. No, it’s not what you’re thinking (get your mind out of the gutter) and it’s not communication either. The word is ‘climate’. Specifically, why the subject of climate change is so hard.
Whatever your perspective is on protecting our planet is not the issue here. So for the purpose of my point, I want you to assume we all agree that something needs to be done to address the impact of climate change on our world.
Let’s look at some of the facts: the global scientific community has warned us for years about the present and future impact of climate change. They prove the link to fossil fuel use, while the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report warns us of ‘severe, widespread, and irreversible impacts’ if carbon emissions are not halted, fast. During the report’s release, even UN secretary-general Ban Ki-Moon said: ‘Science has spoken. Time is not on our side.’
Yet, still we fail to act. Why?
Our brains are not wired to respond to long-term issues.
The biology of our brain is motivated to respond to short-term threats, not those that seem far off in the future. Think about the simple act of saving for your retirement. When you are a teenager, how important is putting money aside for something that is 50 years away? Even in your 20s, you were more interested in saving for things that gave you short-term happiness like clothes, entertainment, holidays and gadgets.
It’s only as more and more grey hairs appear, and the weight gets harder to drop, that our future planning becomes a priority and eventually a necessity.
‘Our brain is essentially a get-out-of-the-way machine,’ explains Daniel Gilbert, professor of psychology at Harvard and author of Stumbling on Happiness. ‘That’s why we can duck a baseball in milliseconds.’
Humans have shortcomings that make us afraid to list what we want to do in the long-term. We also have an inbuilt ‘optimism bias’ that clouds our judgment of the future in spite of evidence of the opposite. Basically, we want to believe in the good of the future and focus on the now.
We’re also pretty fickle and demand instant gratification when we make a decision. The dopamine hit we get when we see someone has liked our Facebook post is contributing to a society of ‘short-termism’. We want to see the results and we want to see them now! Not in 50 years.
It makes sense that we think we can avoid thinking and making decisions about climate change, as the gradual effects are not consuming our short-term thinking. Let’s know this and work around it.
Let’s decide what short-term habits we can change to make a lasting long-term effect.
What short term habits can you start now that you know will impact your life in the future?
More about this and wiring your projects and cultures for long term change in my new book; ‘Feedback Flow; The Ultimate Illustrated Guide to Making Change that Sticks’. Coming in 2018!