We’re bored with climate change

The BBC suggests today that we’ve moved on from caring about climate change because we’re tired of it.

Are we tired of climate change?” the BBC asks.

“Yes,” all four experts consulted answered.

Max Boykoff, who founded the Media Climate Change Observatory, says the number of stories about climate change has ebbed, noting that NPR has reduced its environmental team from three reporters to just one.

But environmental psychologist Robert Gifford has the most fascinating observation. We don’t have the brains to consider climate change in a sustainable way.

“Our brain physically hasn’t developed much for about 30,000 years. At that time we were mostly wandering around on the Savannah, and our main concerns were very immediate: feeding ourselves right now, worrying about anybody who might try to take our territory. There was very little thinking about what might happen in five years, 10 years, or 100km away.

“We still have this same brain. Obviously we’re capable of planning, but the kind of default is to stick into the here and now, which is not very good for thinking about climate change, which is a problem that, for many people, is more in the future and farther away, or at least we think it is.

“[And] as any advertiser knows, if you don’t change your message people will just tune out. And so environmental numbness is ‘yes, I’ve heard that message before’. We’re always open to new messages, and paying more attention to new messages. So if governments or policymakers repeat the same message too often, people just tune out after a while.”

“‘What can I do about this global problem? I’m just one person, and there’s 7+ billion people on the planet. I just don’t have much control over this, so therefore I’m not going to do much about it, because my contribution, even if I did everything, wouldn’t make much difference.’

“Most of us who are trying to do something about this have realised, for example, that the polar bear metaphor is not
a great one. Yes, we have some sympathy for this poor polar bear, but it’s not close enough to our own lives.

“Uncertainty is a really big problem. We’ve learned in my own laboratory from experimental evidence that when people feel a bit uncertain about an environmental problem – if the future temperature might vary from a half a degree increase to a one and a half degrees increase – people will say ‘well, it’s probably only going to be a half a degree increase, so I’ll keep flying to some tropical place’.

“It’s a natural human tendency to interpret information in a way that suits our personal interests.

“Talking about climate change doesn’t have to involve ‘talking about climate change’,” says another.

Related: Berkeley and San Francisco Are Pushing to Put Climate Change Warning Labels on Gas Pumps (CityLab).

  • Gary F
    • Dave

      I’m tired of comments that reply to the headline, not the article. Been tired of it for a long time.

      • In this case, the comments actually prove the article.

        • CB

          lol! That, or the comments prove there’s an intentional effort to mislead people going on out there…

          I would suggest it doesn’t actually matter how bored anyone is by an approaching threat.

          Their boredom is not going to keep them safe from it.

  • MrE85

    The gas station “warning labels” are interesting, but lets face it, once we have purchased a vehicle with a gasoline engine, we don’t have many options at the pump, do we? It’s a little different for flex fuel vehicles, at least here in Minnesota.

  • mememine

    Science is certain the planet isn’t flat but 97% certain climate change could flatten it and another 34 years of climate action failure is 100% certain.

  • Gary F

    It’s hard not to get tired of it. When California Democrat Barbara Lee proposes bills like this, it gets old really fast. This is humorous. https://www.congress.gov/bill/114th-congress/house-concurrent-resolution/29/text

  • Jim G

    I’ve always wondered about the difference between two flies; one manages to avoid the fly-swatter while the other is smashed to smithereens. At least the smashed one didn’t have any second thoughts about whether the swatter was real.

  • Julie

    Climate Change is affecting people now – In CA they didn’t have more than 6% of their snowfall so they are at an even worse state in their drought this year. In MN we had a great lack of snow and the state of MN drought level is high in most every county. Water wars are the current issue more than oil wars.

  • Dan Voltz

    The psychology of this is interesting. We live in a society that valorizes individualism (often to a fault) but in which, we as individuals, often feel powerless to make an impact. There’s a fascinating sort of tension at work there.

    Maybe we need more droughts. I’ve always accepted the science of climate change, but I *feel* climate change much more intensely when the trees are bare and the ground is dry.

    And I guess we’ll get more droughts whether we need them or not.

    • By sheer coincidence, I think, 10 Years After was on the radio as I was reading the BBC post. .

      “I’d love to change the world / But I don’t know what to do / So I’ll leave it up to you”

      I think that’s a plausible explanation of why people have checked out.


      • tboom (aka don quixote)

        It certainly is a plausible explanation.

        I do the CFL/LED thing, replace energy inefficient appliances with Energy Star purchases, run around the house annoying Mrs. tboom by shutting off lights, replace vehicles with better mileage (next replacement might be electric), continually try to improve home insulation, try to purchase organic and local, write to my legislators (but that’s a losing battle, can’t compete with the Koch billions), etc., etc., etc.

        Yet what difference does this really make? Noda.

        The only thing that keeps me going is thinking that in about 40 years my Grandkid will say “Grandpa was different … occasionally in a good way.”

      • tboom (aka don quixote)

        BTW thanks for the Ten Years After, music in my wheelhouse.

  • manezi

    Well said.

  • Kurt O

    This article clearly illustrates why people are not as engaged as some would like: The average person is tired of being called stupid, irresponsible and selfish by a bunch of talking heads. How many of you rolled your eyes when you saw the statements were being made by an “environmental psychologist”? Tell someone they are effectively a caveman who can’t think about anything beyond tomorrow, let alone handle something as big as climate change and it shouldn’t be a surprise that you get tuned out very quickly.

    • The statements weren’t made by an environmental psychologist. He never said anything of the sort, nor did he say they are a caveman.

      also, use your real name here.

      • Kurt O

        Sorry about the name.

        “But environmental psychologist Robert Gifford has the most fascinating observation. We don’t have the brains to consider climate change in a sustainable way.

        “”Our brain physically hasn’t developed much for about 30,000 years. At that time we were mostly wandering around on the Savannah…””

        He didn’t say “caveman” but saying 30,000 years ago isn’t too different.

        I know climate change is very serious and I’m not trying to say the points brought forth in the article are not valid. To me his statements came across as being condescending towards the people that aren’t engaged.

        • I think he was being more clinical than anything else, describing a physiology to explain why we’re not predisposed to be concerned. I think it makes sense; I don’t think we are predisposed to care. I don’t think it’s a question of intelligence as much as it is capability.

          • Kurt O

            I agree with you, but we’re not in the group of people the article is talking about.

            The problem isn’t the intention of the article, but with its perception by the subject people. A person who thinks their capabilities or priorities are being called into question will go on the defensive and ignore what is being said. Worse yet, they may go on the offensive and go in the opposite direction (Think climate change deniers and “coal rollers”).

          • I hate to admit it because I think I kind of am. I find myself asking “what do you want ME to do about it?” when the topic is discussed. And increasingly, believing that it’s already too late, I find myself tuning out.

  • There is proof that CO2 has no significant effect on climate and what actually does
    cause climate change (95% correlation since before 1900) has been identified.

    • Proof or evidence?

      • The proof is at the address at the bottom of the graph, or search “agwunveiled”. It is a distance into the paper in the section starting “corroboration…” It is straight forward, using existing publicly available data and requires only a basic understanding of the relation between physics and math.

        The analysis resulting in the above graph demonstrates the excellent correlation when CO2 is excluded.

  • David Prentice

    People don’t care because they despise sanctimonious left-wingers wagging their fingers and shrieking about something that should’ve happened by now – according to people like Al Gore – but hasn’t. Here’s Looking Glass


  • Planet patriot

    Actually all the political debates, intrigue, and different view points make for a great novel, very exciting stuff, more entertaining than any TV program.