By Paul Quigg, columnist
When actions we take today will not have an immediate impact on our lives, we immediately discount today’s action and get on with our lives. The further in the future that we anticipate the results will have an effect on us, the less value we give to today’s actions. This future result of today’s actions is called “deferred gratification” and in economic terms, “time discounting”. The time frames studied are usually limited to 10 years after which results quickly lose their viability. This theory has been proven true for many years.
This presents an enormous problem for climate change action when we are dealing with 50-, 75- and 100-year time frames between cause and effect. All climate change studies spend a great deal of their time saying that we have to overlook and disregard deferred gratification for ethical reasons. They have no rational argument for denying deferred gratification, so they have to fall back on “ethical” reasons in order to justify any global warming action today. In the last few years, deferred gratification concerns are being ignored, and immediate drastic action is the only hope for the future of humanity.
This noble “ethical” call for immediate action is not based on reality. Current concerns and events dominate our lives today, consequently, we have severely slowed climate mitigation efforts. Energy dominates the political actions countries are making today, and climate concerns are near the bottom of the list. The current problems are just too close to home, and they will not be ignored.
Our brains evolved in a time of local concerns and linear timeframes. Today, we live in global and exponential timeframes. Our brains are unable to absorb our new reality, and we panic and behave irrationally.
Is this good or bad? I don’t know. I do know that global actions today are rational and realistic, and countries and individuals will respond in their own special interests. The realities of human nature are very discouraging, but asking us to ignore these realities does nothing to address climate action and gives us a false sense of security.
Mr. Quigg, a University of Virginia graduate and resident of Luray, has practiced architecture in the Mid-Atlantic region since 1962. As a lifelong environmentalist, in the 70’s he was appalled at the polluted air and water and has dedicated much of his time since in studying and commenting on the environment. He has been published in the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal and other publications.