Why Are We Fascinated with Short-term Destruction & Fear (i.e. Volcanoes, Rapture) but Oblivious to Long-term Harms (i.e. Global Warming)?

  • Published on May 22nd, 2011

rapture sculpture and flame photo

Yeah, this is something I’ve thought about a lot, and read psychological articles on — it’s not new. But with the eruption of the Icelandic volcano, Grimsvotin, on top of the hysteria (or mocking of hysteria) regarding Rapture, this question has flooded my thoughts and left me in wonder again.

Seriously, Grimsvotin will never cause even a tiny, little percentage of the harm global warming will cause and has already caused. Similarly, the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disasters in Japan that we covered thoroughly and are all, yes, true disasters, won’t cause a significant percentage of the harm global climate change will cause (if we don’t act to stop and reverse it, which it seems we are not likely to do).

So, why do they get our attention so much easier and more intensely?

Well, while I started out just wanting to pose the question, I think I’ll supply some possible answers as well now:

  1. We are fascinated by what is new and what is happening now, and while global warming is happening now and we are seeing the effects now, the core issue is rather ‘old’ (relatively speaking) and thus like a 1990’s cell phone to many of us. We are not very good at long-term thinking, planning, and action I’d say. We take for granted its importance. This is true on a societal level and on a personal level as well for the large majority of us.
  2. Furthermore, the feelings of hopelessness most people have (who understand the climatic situation) is one that pushes people towards inaction. We CAN work together to stop catastrophic climate change, but because many people don’t believe that, they give up before giving it a try and try to avoid the topic altogether.
  3. We are visual species. Sight is very important to humans and visual events like volcanoes erupting (or imaginary visual events like Rapture) are more attractive to us. Global warming will have and is having many clear, visual effects (from floods to fires to hurricanes to temperature maps… ok, the last one might not fit perfectly), but they are not “global warming” and fighting global warming in the long-term is rather disconnected from these in many people’s minds.

We can take action to address global climate change, and we need to, but we need to give more consideration to the long term, have more hope that we can create positive change (even on a societal level), and understand that if we don’t want to see massive devastation from global climate change, we’d better act now.

Those are my main thoughts. Feel free to chime in with more or criticize my thoughts if you are inclined.

Ways to Green Your Life.

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  3. What to do on Earth Day?

Photo Credit: Rapture via jurvetson


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About the Author

is the director of CleanTechnica, the most popular cleantech-focused website in the world, and Planetsave, a world-leading green and science news site. He has been covering green news of various sorts since 2008, and he has been especially focused on solar energy, electric vehicles, and wind energy since 2009. Aside from his work on CleanTechnica and Planetsave, he's the founder and director of Solar Love, EV Obsession, and Bikocity. To connect with Zach on some of your favorite social networks, go to ZacharyShahan.com and click on the relevant buttons.
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  • Anonymous

    FreeSlave: i can only imagine where you get your information..

    if the science is so bad, why do the leading overarching scientific institutions of the world and top non-climate scientists support it (after reviewing it, of course) and tell us the same? (of course, you can claim that the whole global scientific community is in cahoots against the world, but I think anyone with any sense of how the world actually works will have a hard time believe you). see the list of scientific institutions on the bottom of this comment.

    for more articles on this:

    http://planetsave.com/2011/02/04/science-under-attack-videos/

    http://planetsave.com/2010/05/07/255-leading-scientists-11-nobel-laureates-write-letter-supporting-climate-scientists-climate-science/

    http://planetsave.com/2011/05/21/17-nobel-laureates-call-for-%e2%80%9cfundamental-transformation-and-innovation-in-all-spheres-and-at-all-scales-in-order-to-stop-and-reverse-global-environmental-change%e2%80%9d/

    furthermore, with about 97-98% of climate scientists telling us the same thing (hundreds or thousands of them), can you really assume this conspiracy theory you propose? have you ever known any climate scientists? i have.

    if 97% of heart doctors in the world told you that you had a critical heart problem and gave you advice on how to solve it, would you assume it was a huge conspiracy to steal your money and make you poor? so, why do you assume the same percentage climate scientists, coming to a clear conclusion after decades of intense research and advising that we cut our carbon emissions (i.e. stop overusing coal and oil), are wrong?

    anyway, here are the scientific bodies that i referred to above:

    links available here: http://www.skepticalscience.com/print.php?a=17

    The following scientific organizations endorse the consensus position that “most of the global warming in recent decades can be attributed to human activities”:

    American Association for the Advancement of Science
    American Astronomical Society
    American Chemical Society
    American Geophysical Union
    American Institute of Physics
    American Meteorological Society
    American Physical Society
    Australian Coral Reef Society
    Australian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society
    Australian Bureau of Meteorology and the CSIRO
    British Antarctic Survey
    Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Sciences
    Canadian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society
    Environmental Protection Agency
    European Federation of Geologists
    European Geosciences Union
    European Physical Society
    Federation of American Scientists
    Federation of Australian Scientific and Technological Societies
    Geological Society of America
    Geological Society of Australia
    International Union for Quaternary Research (INQUA)
    International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics
    National Center for Atmospheric Research
    National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
    Royal Meteorological Society
    Royal Society of the UK
    The Academies of Science from 19 different countries all endorse the consensus. 11 countries have signed a joint statement endorsing the consensus position:

    Academia Brasiliera de Ciencias (Brazil)
    Royal Society of Canada
    Chinese Academy of Sciences
    Academie des Sciences (France)
    Deutsche Akademie der Naturforscher Leopoldina (Germany)
    Indian National Science Academy
    Accademia dei Lincei (Italy)
    Science Council of Japan
    Russian Academy of Sciences
    Royal Society (United Kingdom)
    National Academy of Sciences (USA) (12 Mar 2009 news release)
    A letter from 18 scientific organizations to US Congress states:

    “Observations throughout the world make it clear that climate change is occurring, and rigorous scientific research demonstrates that the greenhouse gases emitted by human activities are the primary driver. These conclusions are based on multiple independent lines of evidence, and contrary assertions are inconsistent with an objective assessment of the vast body of peer-reviewed science.”
    The consensus is also endorsed by a Joint statement by the Network of African Science Academies (NASAC), including the following bodies:

    African Academy of Sciences
    Cameroon Academy of Sciences
    Ghana Academy of Arts and Sciences
    Kenya National Academy of Sciences
    Madagascar’s National Academy of Arts, Letters and Sciences
    Nigerian Academy of Sciences
    l’Académie des Sciences et Techniques du Sénégal
    Uganda National Academy of Sciences
    Academy of Science of South Africa
    Tanzania Academy of Sciences
    Zimbabwe Academy of Sciences
    Zambia Academy of Sciences
    Sudan Academy of Sciences

    Two other Academies of Sciences that endorse the consensus:

    Royal Society of New Zealand
    Polish Academy of Sciences
    A survey of peer-reviewed research

    Scientists need to back up their opinions with research and data that survive the peer-review process. A survey of all peer-reviewed abstracts on the subject ‘global climate change’ published between 1993 and 2003 shows that not a single paper rejected the consensus position that global warming is man caused (Oreskes 2004). 75% of the papers agreed with the consensus position while 25% made no comment either way (focused on methods or paleoclimate analysis). More on Naomi Oreskes’ survey…

  • Rev. Daniel Blair

     Ok, so there is no secret rapture, we knew
    that.  So back to the Great Tribulation
    that all Christians must go through before Jesus Christ really returns.  And there will be nothing secret about it
    because “every eye shall see!” For those who want to know how to
    stand firm during the Great Tribulation then find my book “Final
    Warning,” because the hour of His Judgment has come. Posted by Rev. Daniel
    W. Blair

  • Rev. Daniel Blair

     Ok, so there is no secret rapture, we knew
    that.  So back to the Great Tribulation
    that all Christians must go through before Jesus Christ really returns.  And there will be nothing secret about it
    because “every eye shall see!” For those who want to know how to
    stand firm during the Great Tribulation then find my book “Final
    Warning,” because the hour of His Judgment has come. Posted by Rev. Daniel
    W. Blair

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