The Psychology of Climate Change and Intervention

by Don Boudreaux on July 2, 2009

in Complexity & Emergence, Environment, Intervention, Seen and Unseen

Writing in today's New York Times, Nicholas Kristof argues
that we're not as frightened of climate change as science counsels that
we should be, and that our fear's inadequacy is rooted in our
evolutionary past.  We are, Kristof correctly says, evolved to fear immediate, visible threats
and not so much those threats – such as climate change – that are more
distant, more speculative, and less visible.

Contrary to Kristof's conclusion,
though, this fact doesn't necessarily justify climate-change
regulation.  The same evolved structure of our brains that causes us to
discount relatively distant and speculative climate-change effects also causes us to
discount relatively distant and speculative economic effects.  So this economist,
trained to see the invisible hand, points out that too many people are
insufficiently aware of – and, hence, insufficiently fearful of – those
relatively distant and invisible threats posed to a healthy economy by
government regulation.


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