Sunday, April 15, 2012

Global warming happens so slowly that people can deny it's happening

Some of the general public still doesn't believe global warming is happening; or at least they can't get real excited about it. There are several reasons for this, but one reason might just be the difficulty human minds have grasping gradual and long term issues.

People think in terms of a crisis, like the banking panic of 2008, but global warming is more gradual. If folks are expecting a crisis, it doesn't really happen so they get tired of waiting and put it on the back burner; so to speak.

Most folks think in terms of weather. There is always a lot of random fluctuation in the weather. Some years are warmer than normal, others are colder. These random fluctuations are more pronounced than the gradual warming due to global warming. These random weather fluctuations can confuse the picture. Long term trends seem to be warmer than cooler in most places, but for the most part, weather doesn't look that much different. After a colder than normal winter (which we still can have) folks take pictures of snowbanks around headlines talking about global warming. It becomes a big joke.

Scientists tend to say that global warming is for real. They see the big picture and notice things like glaciers retreating and long term drought in some parts of the world, including, for instance, the American Southwest. On the other hand, most people don't live in areas that are strongly effected by global warming. They get tired of waiting for the so called calamity.

Since we have 5 fingers on each hand, we tend to put emphasis on numbers that have fives and zeros after them. That means the year 2050 is often cited as a benchmark for predictions about global warming. Often scientists are quoted as saying "around 2050 it's likely that..." Well, a lot of post war baby boom generation isn't likely to even be alive then. It's just such a long term worry that many of the average folk have problems wrapping the mind around it.

Our minds are evolved to deal with more short term problems and crisis. Even though global warming is real, average people get tired of hearing about it and waiting. Some effects of it are already evident, but the effects are fairly subtle in most regions. Not quite as visible as something like the 2008 financial crisis, or today's weather.

Maybe a lot of folks don't necessarily deny global warming. They just aren't mentally equipped to react to something that's happening so slowly. People don't seem to be that evolved, emotionally, to deal with such long term issues. Scientists, on the other hand, use their rational minds to discuss the problem, but the average person tends to just think more in the short term and tends to think more emotionally.

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