Thursday, May 27, 2010

Who's afraid of the distant Wolf?

If one can make up evolutionary must-be stories, it must be that humans were programmed by our ancestry of natural selection to be short-term warriors. We simply seem unable to restrain our short-term self-interested motives for long-term ends. Maybe we don't really believe in religious long-term promises or don't really care what happens to our descendants after we become ant food. But whatever the reason, as this story exemplifies, if the wolf isn't right at our door, we don't seem to want to lock it.

Climate change is a slow process, and must be inferred by what are either short-term direct or long-term indirect measures (like deep ice core sediments, tree rings, and so on). Apparently, Britons who were very strong believers in the seriousness of climate change and ready to do something about it, are now waning in their belief and enthusiasm for appropriate political and behavioral change.

In part this may be due to 'climategate' and other evidence that the science has in some cases been misrepresented, or its scientists seemed self-protective. But partly if not mainly this is likely to be our 30-second attention span, our boredom with the topic du jour, and the lack of much immediacy in the evidence.

Polar bears are, after all, there not here. The Northwest Passage is fine for container ships, but we'll never actually see it (except as a novelty entertainment from Google maps). All the same food is still at the grocery, it's cold outside in May, and I want to keep my many electronic devices on standby status to activate with my remote. Biofuels from corn apparently aren't all that good a solution and they raise the price of food. And I like driving rather than walking round the corner for a bottle of milk. So it's easy to see no urgency in all the green-believers.

So, if evolution gave us a cognitive ability to assess our surroundings beyond what we can immediately see, why are we not able to deal with long-term issues and over-ride our emotional need for the next moment's entertainment or indulgence?

Maybe we're just doomed to live (or not) from crisis to crisis. Only when we can actually hear the cry of the wolf will we shut the door.

1 comment:

Anne Buchanan said...

There's an ongoing discussion of this post on the Mermaid's Tale Facebook page -- please join us.