Two Flaws of Human Rationality May Make It Impossible to Solve the Climate Crisis

As it turns out, assessing long-term risk/reward ratio isn't our strong suit.


Our planet is heating up, in case you have not heard the news. The New York Times does not put too fine a point on the extent of the trouble: “The heat accumulating in the Earth because of human emissions is roughly equal to the heat that would be released by 400,000 Hiroshima atomic bombs exploding across the planet every day.” This week, world leaders convened in Paris to try to work out a plan to get global warming under control. Two hundred countries have 12 days to hammer out an agreement to cut greenhouse gas emissions that threaten the future of life on Earth.

In working toward a climate deal, the leaders face high odds. Sweeping changes are needed, but the political will for change does not appear up to the task. The rational thing to do, of course, is to save the planet. But the way that human rationality works makes it unlikely that even the best minds working conscientiously will be able to do that.

There are two fundamental problems: a collective action conundrum, and a preference for benefits in the short term.

The collective action challenge is the most apparent issue making the Paris talks such a tall order, as a similar Copenhagen summit was six years ago. President Barack Obama acknowledged the disparate interests among the parties to the talks in his remarks on Monday, even as he sounded a note of optimism that real progress lies ahead.

Big Think
Sponsored by Lumina Foundation

Upvote/downvote each of the videos below!

As you vote, keep in mind that we are looking for a winner with the most engaging social venture pitch - an idea you would want to invest in.

Keep reading Show less

Why Lil Dicky made this star-studded Earth Day music video

"Earth" features about 30 of the biggest names in entertainment.

Culture & Religion
  • Lil Dicky is a rapper and comedian who released his debut album in 2015.
  • His new music video, "Earth," features artists such as Justin Bieber, Ariana Grande, Ed Sheehan, Kevin Hart, and Leonardo DiCaprio.
  • All proceeds of the music video will go to environmental causes, Dicky said.
Keep reading Show less

After death, you’re aware that you’ve died, say scientists

Some evidence attributes a certain neurological phenomenon to a near death experience.

Credit: Petr Kratochvil. PublicDomainPictures.net.
Surprising Science

Time of death is considered when a person has gone into cardiac arrest. This is the cessation of the electrical impulse that drive the heartbeat. As a result, the heart locks up. The moment the heart stops is considered time of death. But does death overtake our mind immediately afterward or does it slowly creep in?

Keep reading Show less

Behold, the face of a Neolithic dog

He was a very good boy.

Image source: Historic Environment Scotland
Surprising Science
  • A forensic artist in Scotland has made a hyper realistic model of an ancient dog.
  • It was based on the skull of a dog dug up in Orkney, Scotland, which lived and died 4,000 years ago.
  • The model gives us a glimpse of some of the first dogs humans befriended.
Keep reading Show less