Our Capacity for Worry is Finite

Researchers have found the human brain is like a swimming pool or perhaps better a water jug. The capacity for worry is limited. This has an effect on human efforts to combat climate change. Further, humans tend to favor filling their worry jugs with what is troubling them in the short term rather than the long term even if the long term concern is far more consequential.

Further, the capacity of humans to act is also finite. We can be content to take only a few actions when many are required to address a particular problem. Doing something assuages concern with a bandaid and can allow us to relax. Further, too much worry without action can lean to emotional numbing. All of this has consequences in promoting public concern over climate change according to the Center for Research on Environmental Decisions. I seem to be into song titles lately as “Don’t worry, be happy” comes to my mind.

This center warns against too much emotional appeal by balancing such appeals with analytical facts to appeal to more than one part of our brains. Environmental Nazis like me need to acnknowledge that most people have other pressing concerns, but we can mention relatively easy ways to contribute to climate solutions.

I am thrilled that the Senate persisted to pass a significant bill to address climate change. Bill Gates in a letter to the NYTimes praised the incentives to corporations to act, suggesting that the carrot is better than the stick. Industry can proceed with confidence that doing the right thing is compatible with operating at a profit, and that the public will be with the program in the long run. He believes and I agree that this is a turning point to further action. I only hope it snowballs.