Your brain on climate change - lessons for sanitation?

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  • ggalli
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  • PhD Candidate (Wageningen University) on Sanitation Governance in Gemena, DRC. Interested in governance, socio-technical approaches and politics of sanitation.
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Your brain on climate change - lessons for sanitation?

Hi all ,

I was reading an article today "Your brain on climate change" (see www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business...nvironment-elections ). It is a neuropsychological analysis on why climate change is not taken seriously by many voters and organisations despite the overwhelming evidence. I found that much of what is said in the article could also apply for why it remains difficult to get large-scale change in the sanitation sector.

These are some parts I found interesting:

For one thing, human brains aren’t wired to respond easily to large, slow-moving threats.
“Our brain is essentially a get-out-of-the-way machine,” Daniel Gilbert, a professor of psychology at Harvard best known for his research into happiness, told audiences at Harvard Thinks Big 2010. “That’s why we can duck a baseball in milliseconds.”

Humans are saddled with other shortcomings, too. “Loss aversion” means we’re more afraid of losing what we want in the short-term than surmounting obstacles in the distance. Our built-in “optimism bias” irrationally projects sunny days ahead in spite of evidence to the contrary. To compound all that, we tend to seek out information not for the sake of gaining knowledge for its own sake, but to support our already-established viewpoints.

Daniel Kahneman, Nobel Memorial Prize winner in economics, writes in “Thinking, Fast and Slow” that our brains respond most decisively to those things we know for certain. The more uncertainty that comes along (if climate change will bring 2C degrees of warming or 6C; whether hurricanes will intensity in the Pacific and the Atlantic; if the world’s governments could even stave off the worst of the predicted disasters if they acted immediately in concert) the less we are able to act on what we know for certain. A study from the University of Rochester in 2012 also confirms this tendency.

“Individuals have a cognitive bias to instant gratification,” Tima Bansal, executive director of the Network for Business Sustainability in London, Ontario, Canada, and a professor at the Ivey Business School. “Organizations, which are theoretically rational, have another mindset. Rational behavior means you would take the discounted future cash flow of your earnings, so you would make the long-term investments.”


Would love to hear your thoughts on this. And on how to use this information to make our collective message more effective.

Best,
Giacomo
Giacomo Galli
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  • JKMakowka
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Re: Your brain on climate change - lessons for sanitation?

ggalli wrote:

“Individuals have a cognitive bias to instant gratification,” Tima Bansal, executive director of the Network for Business Sustainability in London, Ontario, Canada, and a professor at the Ivey Business School. “Organizations, which are theoretically rational, have another mindset. Rational behavior means you would take the discounted future cash flow of your earnings, so you would make the long-term investments.”


Would love to hear your thoughts on this. And on how to use this information to make our collective message more effective.


Yes, for anyone having worked in climate change advocacy this is quite depressing, and I think the short term thinking is even worse when it comes to stock listed companies (as also explained in the article a bit below your quote above).

As far as individuals are concerned, there seems to be one slight deviation from that cognitive bias and that is planning the future of your children. So any longer term behaviour change should probably be framed and targeted at parents of small children (as opposed to abstract terms like "future generations").
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