Yes, America’s “sleepwalking into disaster” warns the U.N. secretary-general. Zombies, lost, mindless, sleepwalking. Because “our brains are wired to ignore climate change,” says George Marshall in his book, Don’t Even Think About It: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Ignore Climate Change. And Nobel Economist Daniel Kahneman warns in a NewScientist interview: “I am deeply sorry, but I am deeply pessimistic. I really see no path to success on climate change.”
The big takeaways here … The American brain is programmed to ignore, minimize and reject global warming … humans are sleepwalking, will be unprepared for future disasters … only 24% Americans believe climate is a problem … even the world’s leading brain researcher is pessimistic … sees “no path for success” because our human brain is sabotaging advance planning and future policies.
But why? What about the future of capitalism? Global economy? Planet Earth? If Kahneman is “deeply pessimistic,” should the UN, USA, EU, leaders like Bill Gates, Bill McKibben, all other activists and policy makers just give up? Because whatever they do will be sabotaged by the “collective unconscious” of our climate science-denying brains?
Is The Price of Freedom Too Costly, Too Risky, Too Deadly?
Kahneman sees “climate change as a perfect trigger, a distant problem that requires sacrifices now to avoid uncertain losses far in the future.” But we refuse to make these sacrifices, even see the problem. Why? Our brains focus instead on today’s pocketbook issues, family, jobs, food, payday, a new smart phone, latest tech gadgets, hashtags, today stuff. Climate change is future stuff.
Americans love freedom. New cars. Need gas. Every day. We’re focused on short-term issues. Is climate a “big issue?” Gallup polls says no. Only 24% of Americans think “climate change” is a big problem, near the bottom of 15 national problems polled. We’ll worry about climate later.
But will later be too late to prepare? Yes. Environmentalists like Bill McKibben, Earth Institute’s Jeff Sachs, and RiskyBusiness.org leaders Mayor Michael Bloomberg, former Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson and billionaire Tom Steyner are warning it may already be “too late.”
Humans are unpredictable, contradictory, closet saboteurs. Big Oil creates nine million jobs, about $1 trillion in annual revenue. Vanguard Funds own over $15 billion of Exxon Mobil across 170 funds and 20 million shareholders. And our own governments just keeps giving Big Oil $4 billion a year in tax incentives.
Did The “Invisible Hand (of God?)” Wire Our Brains to Self-Detruct?
In Clive Hamilton’s Requiem for a Species: Why We Resist the Truth about Climate Change, we’re warned that Earth will soon “enter a chaotic era lasting thousands of years. Whether human beings would still be a force on the planet, or even survive … one thing seems certain: there will be far fewer of us.” Maybe even none. Remember, last time the planet went dark, the dinosaur species was wiped out. Never returned. So today, a huge 76% of us, 235 million Americans, are admitting climate change is not a top priority for Americans. Get it? We think short-term. Or not at all. Why? Hamilton put it like this:
“Sometimes facing up to the truth is just too hard. When the facts are distressing it is easier to reframe or ignore them. Around the world only a few have truly faced up to the facts about global warming … It’s the same with our own deaths; we all ‘accept’ that we will die, but it is only when our death is imminent that we confront the true meaning of our mortality.”
Yes, denial is wired into our brains … by God, by the Invisible Hand of capitalism, or some other grand power that reveals itself in many mysterious ways … like the brain research of Kahneman, Ariely and other behavioral scientists. Here are 10 other ways the collective human brain, our conscious soul, is blocked from focusing on long-term problems:
NARCISSISM LIMITS WORLD: ME-FIRST NOW, GLOBAL WARMING LATER
Experts at Earth Policy Institute and Worldwatch Institute agree with Gallup, asking: “Peak Production From a Planet in Distress: Can We Keep It Up?” No. Instead, the global economic system is “programmed to squeeze ever more resources from a planet in distress … A mixture of population growth, consumerism, greed, and short-term thinking by policy makers and business people seems to be inexorably driving human civilization toward a showdown with the planet’s limits.” But later is too late. No time to prepare.
FEAR AMERICAN DREAM IS DYING, YET EXPECT MORE GROWTH, JOBS
Our brains are split: We want the good ol’ American Dream. A world of hope, promises. Since 1776 we’ve banked on Adam Smith’s vision of a “Land of Prosperity.” Our brains keep telling us the glory days will return. A new Industrial Revolution. 3% GDP growth. Robert Gordon asks: “Is U.S. Economic Growth Over?” Inequality accelerates. The rich get richer. Is capitalism killing us? Gordon sees our GDP falling below 1% growth by 2100.
BELIEF IN THE SELF-DESTRUCTIVE MYTH OF PERPETUAL GROWTH
The economists’ myth of perpetual growth is based on fairy-tale assumptions. We’re wasting nonrenewable natural resources, will eventually destroy the planet. Traditional economists work for companies with short-term views. That system says: If we can’t grow this quarter, the long-term is irrelevant. That mythos has us on a suicide mission. Our brains are saboteurs.
GLOBAL POPULATION IS OUT OF CONTROL: NEW BABIES, OLD RETIREES
Scientific American says global population growth is “the most overlooked and essential strategy for achieving long-term balance,” yet, by 2050 global population will explode from 7 to 10 billion. Five years ago Bill Gates, Buffett, Soros, Rockefeller, Winfrey, Bloomberg and other billionaires met secretly, all agreed: World’s biggest time-bomb? Overpopulation. Jeremy Grantham says we can’t feed 10 billion. Gates says 8.3 billion people is the limit. Jeffery Sachs’ Earth Institute warns that even five billion may be too many.
IDEOLOGICAL TABOOS BLIND US TO LIMITING GLOBAL POPULATION
In “The Last Taboo,” Mother Jones editor Julia Whitty hit the nail on the head: “What unites the Vatican, lefties, conservatives and scientists in a conspiracy of silence? Population.” Unfortunately, these hot-button issues ignite powerful reactions from religious fundamentalists. Politicians, global leaders are silent saboteurs. Even though runaway population is killing our world. By the time we wake up, it’ll be too late to prepare.
CAPITALIST BRAIN IS SELF-DESTRUCTIVE, WIDENING INEQUALITY GAP
Anthropologist Jared Diamond says public-health advances have “increased life spans in the Third World.” Still, today about “80% of the world’s population” survives on a few dollars a day. In The Price of Inequality Nobel economist Joseph Stiglitz warns, “there’s less equality of opportunity in the U.S today than in almost any advanced industrial country.” Since 2008, the Super Rich have captured 93% of all income growth. Capitalism has sold its soul to the devil.
SHORT-TERM THINKING HELPS CLIMATE-SCIENCE DENIERS GET RICHER
Even Exxon Mobil’s $40 million-a-year CEO Rex Tillerson, now Secretary of State, admited climate change is real. But just an “engineering problem” with “an engineering solution.” Humans “spent our entire existence adapting.” Sea-level rise? “We’ll adapt!” Even with the U.N.’s 2,500 climate scientists 97% certainty climate change could wipe us off the planet, we unconsciously support the world’s biggest climate-science deniers, Big Oil, the Koch Bros, as they spend millions buying votes of American politicians, and we keep buying more cars, more gas.
BIG OIL HAS NO PUBLIC CONSCIENCE, PLANET-EARTH’S #1 SABOTEUR
The world has “1.4 trillion barrels of oil, enough to last at least 200 years,” says U.S. Chamber of Commerce CEO Tom Donohue, quoting Big Oil stats … “2.7 quadrillion cubic feet of natural gas, enough to last 120 years … 486 billion tons of coal, enough to last more than 450 years.” Yes, 200 years of oil. Too bad it’ll kill us in 50 years, says McKibben in Rolling Stone. Burning all that will increase carbon emissions, trigger suicide in 50 years.
PLANET-EARTH RUNNING OUT OF FOOD, CAN’T FEED 10 BILLION IN 2050
Jeremy Grantham’s firm manages $124 billion. He warns that by 2050 there will be an “inevitable mismatch between finite resources and exponential population growth” with a “bubble-like explosion of prices for raw materials.” Commodity shortages are becoming a “threat to the long-term viability of our species;” it is “impossible to feed 10 billion people.”
TOO MUCH FAITH IN TECHNOLOGY, CAN’T SOLVE THE “BIG PROBLEMS”
In Robert Gordon’s provocative paper predicting declining economic growth, not only will America’s GDP drop under 1% by 2100, the main reason is that emerging new technologies will never match the rate of GDP since the Industrial Revolution. Why? Silicon Valley’s mega-optimism cannot translate into results, won’t reverse the decline in America’s economic growth.
Why? Remember, Silicon Valley is already falling way behind, warns Jason Pontin, editor-in-chief of MIT Technology Review in his provocative article, “Why We Can’t Solve Big Problems.” The Review’s cover hammered home our myopia: “You Promised Me Mars Colonies,” warned astronaut Buzz Aldrin, “Instead, I Got Facebook.” Government stopped investing in big problems. Capitalists took over. So did short-term thinking.
So ask yourself again, did the Invisible Hand of capitalism program the human brain to self-destruct? Take with it the human race, civilization, the planet? Wake up, clues are everywhere, not just in the work of Kahneman, Marshall, Hamilton, Sachs, Ban Ki-moon, McKibben, Bloomberg, Paulson, Steyner. But everywhere, all around you
Why is the human brain wired to think short-term, ignore future threats, refusing to prepare for the risks, obvious ones that will ultimately self-destruct everything we love? Was a neurological “kill-switch” of some sort pre-programmed in our DNA code? And if so, then what could trigger it today? Global warming?