Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Climate Change: Why We Don't Care

Yesterday I posted a chunk of Daniel Gilbert's recent essay in the New York Times on retaliation, retribution, and revenge (which I subsumed under the more general heading of reciprocity). I also posted a link to Professor Gilbert's web site, which has an amusing section titled "Playing." A colleague who browsed the site suggested that I should read Gilbert's essay on global warming. (The suggestion is greatly appreciated, Dr. Rouse.)

The essay is titled "If Only Gay Sex Caused Global Warming." It appeared originally in the Los Angeles Times on July 2. You can also read it on Gilbert's blog here.

Gilbert poses a question that, from a different disciplinary perspective, Dan Caldwell and I try to deal with in the first chapter of Seeking Security in an Insecure World. Why do we worry about certain threats and not others? More particularly, why do we often worry more about less serious threats than about more serious threats? As Gilbert points out, "we worry more about anthrax (with an annual death toll of roughly zero) than influenza (with an annual death toll of a quarter-million to a half-million people)." The short answer, according to Gilbert, is this: "Because the human brain evolved to respond to threats that have four features--features that terrorism has and that global warming lacks."

To find out what those four features are, you'll have to read the essay.