New York The Copenhagen talks on climate change were convened with a sense of urgency that many ordinary folks don’t share. Why is that?
One big reason: It’s hard for people to get excited about a threat that seems far away in space and time, psychologists say.
“It’s not in people’s faces,” said psychologist Robert Gifford of the University of Victoria in British Columbia. “It is in the media, but not in their everyday experience. That’s quite a different thing.”
The consequences of global warming are seen as occurring in far-off places, he said: “It’s happening up in the Arctic or it’s happening in Bangladesh, and it’s not happening in my backyard.” And the slow changes are not as attention-grabbing as a “fast disaster” like an earthquake, he said.
As it happens, those urgent-seeming U.N. talks have bogged down over political differences. But recent surveys suggest that Americans are not exactly consumed by concern over climate change.
In October, the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press said its poll found that only 35 percent of Americans considered global warming to be a very serious problem, a decline from April 2008. Thirty percent called it “somewhat serious.”
“People experience weather on a day-to-day basis, and that’s how they think about climate change,” said Janet Swim, a psychology professor at Pennsylvania State University.