Why humans are so bad at thinking about climate change


“We are hurtling toward the day when climate
change could be irreversible.” “Rising sea levels already altering this nation’s
coast.” “China’s capital is choking in its worst
pollution of the year.” “5% of species will become extinct.” “Sea levels rising, glaciers melting.” Okay. Enough. I get it. It’s not like I don’t care about polar
bears and melting ice caps. I’m a conservation scientist, so of course
I care. I’ve dedicated my entire career to this. But over the years, one thing has become clear
to me: We need to change the way we talk about climate change. This doom-and-gloom messaging just isn’t
working; we seem to want to tune it out. And this fear, this guilt, we know from psychology
is not conducive to engagement. It’s rather the opposite. It makes people passive, because when I feel
fearful or guilt-full, I will withdraw from the issue and try to think about something
else that makes me feel better. And with a problem this overwhelming, it’s
pretty easy to just turn away and kick the can down the road. Somebody else can deal with it. So it’s no wonder that scientists and policymakers
have been struggling with this issue too. So I like to say that climate change is the
policy problem from hell. You almost couldn’t design a worse problem
as a fit with our underlying psychology or the way our institutions make decisions. Many Americans continue to think of climate
change as a distant problem: distant in time, that the impacts won’t be felt for a generation
or more; and distant in space, that this is about polar bears or maybe some developing
countries. Again, it’s not like we don’t care about
these things — it’s just such a complicated problem. But the thing is, we’ve faced enormous,
scary climate issues before. Remember the hole in the ozone layer? As insurmountable as that seemed in the 1970s
and ’80s, we were able to wrap our heads around that and take action. People got this very simple, easy to understand,
concrete image of this protective layer around the Earth, kind of like a roof, protecting
us, in this case, from ultraviolet light, which by the way has the direct health consequence
of potentially giving you skin cancer. Okay, so now you’ve got my attention. And so then they came up with this fabulous
term, the “ozone hole.” Terrible problem, great term. People also got a concrete image of how we
even ended up with this problem. For decades, chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs,
were the main ingredient in a lot of products, like aerosol spray cans. Then scientists discovered that CFCs were
actually destroying the atmospheric ozone. People could look at their own hairspray and
say, “Do I want to destroy the planet because of my hairspray? I mean, god no.” And so what’s interesting is that sales of
hairspray and those kinds of products and underarm aerosols started dropping quite dramatically. People listened to scientists and took action. Now scientists predict that the hole in the
ozone layer will be healed around 2050. That’s actually pretty amazing. And while stopping the use of one product
is actually pretty easy, climate change caused by greenhouse gases … that’s much trickier. Because the sources are more complicated,
and for the most part, they’re totally invisible. Right now, there is CO2 pouring out of tailpipes,
there is CO2 pouring out of buildings, there is CO2 pouring out of smokestacks, but
you can’t see it. The fundamental cause of this problem is largely
invisible to most of us. I mean, if CO2 was black, we would have dealt
with this issue a long time ago. So CO2 touches every part of our lives — our
cars, the places we work, the food we eat. For now, let’s just focus on one thing:
our energy use. How do we make that visible? That was the initial goal of UCLA’s Engage
project, one of the nation’s largest behavioral experiments in energy conservation. What we’re trying to do is to figure out how
to frame information about electricity usage so that people save energy and conserve electricity. The idea is that electricity is relatively
invisible to people. The research team outfitted part of a student
housing complex with meters that tracked real-time usage of appliances and then sent them weekly
reports. So you can see how much energy the stove used
versus the dishwasher or the fridge. We realized, because of this project, the
fridge was like the monster. So lucky for them, their landlord upgraded
their fridge to an energy-efficient one. They also learned other energy-saving tips,
like unplugging their dishwasher when not in use and air-drying their clothes during
the summer months. And researchers, in turn, discovered where
people were willing to cut back. The Engage project wanted to know what types
of messaging could motivate people to change their behavior. We wanted to see over time over a year and
with repeated messages, how do people, behave? How does that impact the consumer behavior? And what we found is that it’s very different. Some households were sent personalized emails
with their energy bill about how they could save money; others learned how their energy
usage impacted the environment and children’s health. Those who received messages about saving money
did nothing. It was totally ineffective because electricity
is relatively cheap. But emails sent that linked the amount of
pollutants produced to rates of childhood asthma and cancer — well, those led to an
8% drop in energy use, and 19% in households with kids. Now, in a separate study, researchers brought
social competition into the mix. First, they hung posters around a dorm building
to publicly showcase how students were really doing: red dots for energy wasters, green
for those doing a good job, and a shiny gold star for those going above and beyond. This social pressure approach led to a 20%
reduction in energy use. This strategy was also used at Paulina’s
complex, and it definitely brought out her competitive streak. For me, the competition was what motivated
me, because seeing your apartment number and telling you that you are doing at the average,
but you are not the best, was like, Why? I’m doing everything you are telling me
to do. I always wanted the gold star, because it
was like, “Oh, my god, I want to be like the less consumption of energy in the whole
building.” And psychology studies have proved this. We are social creatures, and as individualistic
as we can be, turns out we do care about how we compare to others. And yes, we do like to be the best. Some people don’t want to say, Oh, I’m like
the average. No, my usage is different and I want to be
able to act on it. And people can act on it because with these
meters, they can now see their exact impact. A company called Opower is playing with this
idea of social competition. They work with over 100 utility companies
to provide personalized energy reports to millions of customers around the world. Now consumers can not only see their energy
use but how it compares to their neighbors’. Like the UCLA study found, this subtle social
pressure encourages consumers to save energy. It’s been so effective that in 2016, Opower
was able to generate the equivalent of two terawatt-hours of electricity savings. That’s enough to power every home in Miami
for more than a year. And they’re not alone. Even large companies are tapping into behavioral
science to move the dial. Virgin Atlantic Airways gave a select group
of pilots feedback on their fuel use. Over the course of a year, they collectively
saved over 6,800 tons of fuel by making some simple changes:
Adjusting their altitudes, routes, and speed reduced their carbon dioxide emissions by
over 21,000 tons. These behavioral “nudges” do seem to be
advancing how we as a society deal with some pretty complicated climate change issues,
but it turns out we’re just getting started. There is no “quick fix.” We need people changing their companies, changing
their business models, changing the products and services they provide. This is about broader-scale change. And part of this change includes embracing
what makes us human. That it can’t just be a guilt trip about
dying polar bears or driving around in gas guzzlers. We need to talk about our wins, as well — like
how we’re making progress, really being aware of our energy use, and taking advantage
of that competitive spirit we all have in order to really move us from a state of apathy
to action. Global warming is by far the biggest issue
of our time. Climate Lab is a new series from Vox and the
University of California, and we’ll be exploring some surprising ways we can tackle this problem. If you want to learn more, head to climate.universityofcalifornia.edu.

100 thoughts on “Why humans are so bad at thinking about climate change

  1. They never mentioned the nuclear barrels dumped in the oceans for 48 years that are leaking radioactive contaminants into the oceans and the melt downs of Fukushima and Chernobyl. They never mentioned Santa Susana Field Laboratory or Hanford. The nuclear industry always talks about how they're emissions free but if you've seen the uranium mining process, it uses huge amounts of metals and carbon emissions are released in the production of the uranium and rare metals. The other problem is we attack our own environment and with an infinite budget. We also build huge armies to protect our concrete and rebar jungles. The armies are another source of global warming. The church is a huge global warming source. Read a bible don't go to church. They want you to dress up in a suit to look good so you feel good about doing bad things. And for doing the bad things, that the corporations really do, they want us to feel guilty and go to church. Like it's our own fault for putting them in a position of authority to tell us lies non stop. They'll have you praying to invisible beings instead of finding out things for yourself. Don't read the bible. Read general zoology.

  2. This was so good!! Thank you for talking about ozone hole. I’m of an age that remembers that…and I’m happy we got that right. I try my best, I’m vegan, and I use wind power. I try to lump my errands together to save gas. I’m always turning off lights and trying to conserve. I’m worried about our millennials and future generations-we need a healthy earth for them. I constantly think of the animals we’ve wiped out with our lack of compassion. It will only hurt us in the end. I want to downsize to a smaller space, also. Somehow we all lost our minds and thought bigger was better. It’s not. 🖖🏽

  3. People need to start protesting climate change in a way not like literally protesting but make it known like it should be talked about almost all the time in school should be talked about on every tv channel etc

  4. I’m very happy that people like him are trying and are making an impact on how we go about life now and how we could. I am inspired by you and I hope that when I grow up I can be just like you! 🙂

  5. The title should be change to, “Why the government is so bad at thinking if climate change is real”

  6. I like the meat. But I will begin to reduce the portion and replace it with vegetables, And I also want to start recycling products. I know it's not much but I want to contribute.

  7. when they said that people were motivated to use less energy more by kids health than money i teared up. like people hate each other and call eachother selfish. and we all think everyone else is awful. but we do care. its amazing

  8. I think Global Warming Will Lead To Another Ice Age, If Enough CO2 gets into the atmosphere, it could capture/reflect the suns energy casing the planet to cool

  9. “Unless someone like you care a whole lot,nothing’s ever going to get better.
    “It’s not.”
    -Dr. Seuss

  10. I must not be human because for the past few months I've thought about it literally everyday and it makes me mad knowing I can't do anything about it and anything I do barely helps, one person can't stop climate change by himself

  11. Humans will never feel anything until the water enters their house and destroys their families. You only realize what you had once you lose it all.

  12. climate change is legit….i'm seeing the effects up here in Alaska
    glaciers half gone, salmon numbers dropping, extreme heat, warm winters, flooding etc, etc,

  13. Saudi Aramco-this oil company generates over $1 billion a day in revenue- this is y there is no such thing as climate change

  14. yeah don't worry i'll be dead of climate change by the time this rolls around.

    …wait a second

  15. People appear to not care because it’s slowly changing and the actions for us to engage to remedy the Problem seem or appear costly, when in the grand scheme it would be more cost effective to change our behaviors now.

  16. August 2019… ice on Greenland is melting at an accelerated rate. Let's be honest, the corporations have known about the climate crisis for decades. And they've done nothing. Yet they're still trying making it not about them. This video is dishonest; it's putting the onus for the problem on the consumer? If a child has cavities, is it the child's fault, or is it the company making a profit selling the candy? Please, please the very least any of us can do, at this juncture, is, to be honest.

  17. Maybe because it doesn't exist?
    Or maybe when a single volcanic explosion doesn't put out 150x more pollution than all of humanity has for its entire existence on Earth.

  18. The Problem is: If we only change, what people easy want to change…..we change slow and only little things.

    But if we want to stop climate change with this – we should have started with this 30 years ago, when they figured out the problem about climate change the first time.

  19. Why does the cover image show a polar bear? There are more polar bears now than there ever were, primarily because we don’t hunt them as much. Populations are recovering nicely.

  20. in other words: they use the narcisstic traits of humans other than to find efficient technological solutions… smells like socialism

  21. energy use isnt a problem there is an endless amount of energy available to use and many different ways to utilize this that are already becoming commonplace.

  22. in canada we have 11 months of winter . so where is the change ? the global warming/climate shift/climate change/environmental transit ?? where is god/jesus ? all lies and deceptions. all belief systems creating wars, spending and cost to the poor man in taxes.

  23. The problem is, its only the developed countries and the rich who can partake with being green. Being green is expensive. The only solution is to make being green cheaper than the existing alternative. Money dictates and triumphs everything.

  24. In America people don't use gasoline bikes which can drive 80 km per liter of petrol and they blame every other thing about climate change,,,in India especially we use gasoline bikes to protect environment

  25. It seams even the scientists choose only too "see" CO2 which is not even the biggest problem when talking about climate change. "Lets just focuse on one thing" he says…and its not even the thing we can change today and have a great impact. Lets just generalise and not see our own, personal, easily changeable impact on the planet…I'll just say METANE, ANIMAL AGRICULTURE…

  26. I highly recommend watching Cowspiracy on Netflix, it really puts things into perspective and gave me the final push I needed to begin my vegan journey.

  27. 3:45 "If CO2 was black, we would've dealt with this issue a long time ago" Maybe not the best choice of words there bud. XD

  28. This is great, but doesn't tackle some areas that are having a greater impact…fast fashion factories/sweatshops, oil companies, plastics producers etc. They are the greatest contributers to production of co2, and we can make a difference by consuming consciously (not consuming these products) and putting pressure on governments and these companies to make actual changes.

  29. Great ideas on a low-scale, individual scope. However, to truly meet the required goals of a cutback of half of all GHG emissions the crucial actors are not citizens but governments. Policymakers must become less influenced by lobbying from heaby carbon industries and enterprises, and find solutions to reform and innovate their energy consumption sources

  30. Failed Predictions:

    Dec 2007 general press was stating categorically earth would have ice-free summers, quoting
    Jay Swalling NASA "ice free by 2012"
    BBC – Naval College CAL representative "ice-free by 2013"
    National Sonai Status Center- David Barber/Mark Serise and Sweden's expert on CC U. Manatova in 2007 "north pole ice-free by 2008"
    J. Hansen "climate expert" "NY underwater by 2008" and "N. Pole ice-free by 2018"
    D.O.E report has satellite data from 1920.
    Navy has kept satellite data records since 1965, so why do the IPCC graphs start at 1979 when they have satellite data from '72?
    In 72 there was a lot less ice than 79.
    In 45 there was a lot of warming.
    In 58 arctic temp plunged and there was cooling till 1970
    See Bill Gray on the 70 yr cycle of the Thermo Halean Circulation

  31. The three greatest lies ever committed against humanity; there is no God, Russian collusion delusion, and climate change…

  32. No one cares because politicians and famous people are pushing climate change and making millions off it but their actions speak differently than what they preach. Private jets around the world. Beach front homes.

    We need to get rid of all the pollution we have. LA is a huge trash can.

  33. Students have an essay due tomorrow and they haven't started, but they don't worry. Why?

    Because it's not tomorrow yet.

  34. I’m uncomfortable with thinking about climate change because I have generalized anxiety and it gives me panic attacks, so…

  35. Australia used to have a carbon tax and we would get millions of dollars every year from companies carbon emissions fell by 30% then lnp got in and stufed it up

  36. its not CO2, its the SUN – the earth is cooling not warming. CO2 warming is a hoax invented to regulate society. They can't admit its the sun or they lose all power to 'clamp down'

  37. I think theres a simple fix we regulate companies and tax them on waste management like if they release green house gases in the atmosphere we tax them per ton of such gas or tax them on plastic which could make companies invest in bio degradable material that is sturdy instead of useing a plastic bag that is only gonna be used once

  38. How's about a different angle? The angle that we know that anthropogenic climate change theory is the biggest fraud ever perpetrated on mankind.
    I continue to strive to increase my carbon footprint to compensate for your dishonesty or incompetence.

  39. Only once the important coastal cities of the bigger countries disappear shall people take action.

    Imagine your country's biggest coastal city, or if you live near the coast, your own. Imagine that sea levels have risen 16 metres and many buildings are now well submerged. People now have to use ferries to get from place to place. Skyscrapers poke out of the ocean.

  40. Solving the ozone hole problem = getting rid of fluorocarbon hair spray propellant and changing refrigeration chemicals.

    Solving the climate problem = getting rid of cars, suburbs, 24 hour advertising, luxury jobs, finance, insurance, air travel, cryptocurrency; most of today's status symbols and distractions.

    Americans will sit aside and watch the entire ecosystem collapse before giving this stuff up. That includes all the speakers in this video. These things are who we are. Without our toys we are nothing.

  41. All I see is how they want to control peoples lives by monitoring your electricity usage.
    They're watching you o.o LOL!

    If I'm going to be losing electricity due to laws in the future I may as well use it now.
    Why invent something great only to reduce its usefulness later? 🙁

  42. Just make Laws that make the companies that pollute more to stop… the idea of humans will do by themselves we are wrong. I stoped cow meat and reduce on others and my impact its none. 70 of CO2 release comes from 100 companies, so…

  43. I hate the idea of social competition. While I like the outcome, I think comparing people to others is a recipe for disaster. …Look at the current society.

    "[The best person to compare yourself against is who you were yesterday]". Not sure where I heard that, but I think comparing a person against who they were yesterday is a better idea than comparing people against others.

    Just give a standard to rate people against which is better at being objective in its measurements, and then present that to the public. Like health inspection ratings of restaurants. …Except, also, give people a way to opt out and reduce stigmas.

  44. CFC's were banned….they created HFC's ….these have high global warming potential. If you look at a refrigerant PT chart that rates Ozone depletion to global warming potential you will see R12, R22 phased out…R134a, R410 in Or even R744 carbon dioxide used in walmarts….the former high OD the latter high GWP….looks like no more refrigerant use is the only key.

  45. Western developed countries consume around 40-50 times more resources than the developing nations, so the actual problem is the West.

    Maybe we should bring in a quota per person and not allow this over consumption

  46. You cant stop climate change. The climate changes. Thats God's buisness. Remember the ice age? The earth is getting hotter, you cant stop it.

  47. tbh I always just thought that it was a nigh impossible problem to solve, I didn't realize that all we needed to do it end fossil fuels and plant trees

  48. I have an idea, clean countries take over corrupt and poor countries and then they make the country better and put clean and green stuff there and then now they could be better

    But first they fix their own problem

  49. Dont understand, so the competitive sistem that we’re in, the same one that messed up things in the first place (call it “modernism” if you want), is the final solution?
    Kind of like healing a cut with the same knife you cut with

  50. Another question: that reference of the air sprays and the “ozone hole”, was that a thing at a global scale or only in the US? I find hard to believe that a product used by of one or some countries, only used in a specific period of human history, could be the cause of a massive “hole” in earths composition.

  51. okay the ones who believe it and think there is a problem! :1 stop using a car ,don't go on holidays ,don't use lights /batteries/ i know you wont!

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