The Dragons of Inaction

The Limited Cognition Dragons

Often, as humans, we don’t think very well; we think we are rational, but often we rationalize. The environment often falls victim to us not thinking when we could, and should, take more action. Eleven manifestations of limited cognition are known:

  1. Ancient brain: Our brains have not evolved much since the time when we were no threat to the environment as a whole. Therefore, we tend to think in terms of immediately providing for ourselves, our families, and our friends, rather than the more distant or future task of sustaining the complex environmental systems upon which we ultimately depend.
  2. Ignorance: Some people are still unaware that climate change is a problem. Others are quite aware, but have no knowledge of what to do about it. This may be caused by mixed media messages, lack of individual research, or perhaps simply a lack of technical knowledge about what is and is not effective.
  3. Uncertainty: When we are not sure, we hesitate; hesitation is inaction. Uncertainty can also feed self-interest: not sure how much of a resource is available? We tend to assume there are lots of it.
  4. Environmental numbness: This manifests in two ways. First, it can mean screening out the distant aspects of climate change with which one cannot immediately identify or which have no immediate impact. Second, when we receive very frequent messages about climate change or the environment, we habituate to the message rather than actively listening to it.
  5. Spatial discounting: Occurs when individuals presume that climate change or environmental problems are worse in other places than their own, so that they need not take personal responsibility now.
  6. Temporal discounting: Occurs when individuals presume that climate change or environmental problems will occur so far in the future that they need not take personal responsibility now.
  7. Optimism bias: Usually, optimism is a good thing, but many individuals assume they are less at risk for health issues than they actually are, and in terms of environmental problems, they often assume that all will be well without they themselves needing to act.
  8. (A lack of) Perceived behavioral control: When people believe they not able to do anything helpful about climate change or the environment.
  9. (A lack of) Self-efficacy: When people believe what they are able to do about climate change or the environment will not matter.
  10. Confirmation bias: We want to be told that our views are correct, so we tend to choose media that reinforce our views.
  11. When time is money: When people tend to think of the time they are spending on something is about money, they tend to act less sustainably.

Next: The Ideology Dragons