Monday, June 25, 2007

Global warming (by evildoers today)

America's National Priorities:

  1. The War on Gays (US military would rather have soldiers be killed by al qaeda than use gay linguists)
  2. The War on Terrorism (US would rather kill Iraqi and Afghan patriots than save American cities from destruction by global warming)
  3. The War on Global Warming (US would rather send billions of dollars to Saudi Arabia, Iran, Russia, and other petrocracies and oleo-oligarchs than developing renewable energy sources)
I probably should have mentioned enriching themselves and their enron/exxonmobil/kuwaiti/saudi sponsors as the real number one, but the order I describe is clear from the objective facts. Why is it that this is the way the politics work out? One suggestion from Harvard Psychology Professor Daniel Gilbert, seen on the Richard Dawkins site, reprinted from the L. A. Times, where it is archived (to pay to view).
Thursday, March 22, 2007
If only gay sex caused global warming
by Daniel Gilbert,

Why we're more scared of gay marriage and terrorism than a much deadlier threat.

By Daniel Gilbert, Daniel Gilbert is a professor of psychology at Harvard University and the author of "Stumbling on Happiness," published in May by Knopf.

July 2, 2006

Why are we less worried about the more likely disaster? Because the human brain evolved to respond to threats that have four features — features that terrorism has and that global warming lacks.

First, global warming lacks a mustache. No, really. We are social mammals whose brains are highly specialized for thinking about others. Understanding what others are up to — what they know and want, what they are doing and planning — has been so crucial to the survival of our species that our brains have developed an obsession with all things human. We think about people and their intentions; talk about them; look for and remember them.

The second reason why global warming doesn't put our brains on orange alert is that it doesn't violate our moral sensibilities. It doesn't cause our blood to boil (at least not figuratively) because it doesn't force us to entertain thoughts that we find indecent, impious or repulsive. When people feel insulted or disgusted, they generally do something about it, such as whacking each other over the head, or voting. Moral emotions are the brain's call to action.

Although all human societies have moral rules about food and sex, none has a moral rule about atmospheric chemistry. And so we are outraged about every breach of protocol except Kyoto. Yes, global warming is bad, but it doesn't make us feel nauseated or angry or disgraced, and thus we don't feel compelled to rail against it as we do against other momentous threats to our species, such as flag burning. The fact is that if climate change were caused by gay sex, or by the practice of eating kittens, millions of protesters would be massing in the streets.

The third reason why global warming doesn't trigger our concern is that we see it as a threat to our futures — not our afternoons. Like all animals, people are quick to respond to clear and present danger, which is why it takes us just a few milliseconds to duck when a wayward baseball comes speeding toward our eyes.

The brain is a beautifully engineered get-out-of-the-way machine that constantly scans the environment for things out of whose way it should right now get. That's what brains did for several hundred million years — and then, just a few million years ago, the mammalian brain learned a new trick: to predict the timing and location of dangers before they actually happened.

Our ability to duck that which is not yet coming is one of the brain's most stunning innovations, and we wouldn't have dental floss or 401(k) plans without it. But this innovation is in the early stages of development. The application that allows us to respond to visible baseballs is ancient and reliable, but the add-on utility that allows us to respond to threats that loom in an unseen future is still in beta testing.

We haven't quite gotten the knack of treating the future like the present it will soon become because we've only been practicing for a few million years. If global warming took out an eye every now and then, OSHA would regulate it into nonexistence.

There is a fourth reason why we just can't seem to get worked up about global warming. The human brain is exquisitely sensitive to changes in light, sound, temperature, pressure, size, weight and just about everything else. But if the rate of change is slow enough, the change will go undetected.

Environmentalists despair that global warming is happening so fast. In fact, it isn't happening fast enough. If President Bush could jump in a time machine and experience a single day in 2056, he'd return to the present shocked and awed, prepared to do anything it took to solve the problem..

The human brain is a remarkable device that was designed to rise to special occasions. We are the progeny of people who hunted and gathered, whose lives were brief and whose greatest threat was a man with a stick. When terrorists attack, we respond with crushing force and firm resolve, just as our ancestors would have. Global warming is a deadly threat precisely because it fails to trip the brain's alarm, leaving us soundly asleep in a burning bed.

It remains to be seen whether we can learn to rise to new occasions.
It's funny to think that Philip K. Dick dealt with this idea decades ago (1968!) in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep. Precisely because these realities were not part of the brain's hardwiring, and because the planet had been ruined, the religion of Mercerism instituted the idea of life and nature as the most valued, sacred things, and empathy for all living things as the highest ideal.

Also, just as food and sexual taboos are socially constructed, we are witnessing the construction of these carbon taboos now. We will see anger at the immoral, mustached individuals when our afternoons are ruined, as it was for many residents of New Orleans a few years ago and perhaps Miami one fine day soon? I appreciate the article, but it will seem out of date as an explanation of why no action was taken in a few years. There already are, in fact, "moral codes about atmospheric chemistry", where one smokes, how that is perceived, what kinds of industrial and agricultural trace chemicals are tolerable in the air, and so on. You can imagine a similar article explaining why the slavery issue is not being dealt with, or why women's right to vote has not come yet.

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