Slaying the Limited Cognition Dragons: Part Five

Slaying The Limited Cognition Dragons: Part Five

By Celeste Butts

Climate change is unlike any other threat. A single person does not cause it, and its affects can take years to see.  We tend to rationalize the problem in ways that limit reality. For example, this threat isn’t traditional like a bear in the woods. Our brains don’t respond well to distant threats, creating an “ancient brain” dilemma. The species in this Limited Cognition dragon are ways our brain copes with “ancient brain” or creates cognitive blocks.

  • Uncertainty
  • Environmental Numbness
  • Spatial Discounting
  • Temporal Discounting
  • Optimum Bias
  • (A lack of) Perceived Behavioral Control
  • (A lack of) Self-efficacy
  • Confirmation Bias
  • When Time Is Money

All of these create inaction.  “Uncertainty” causes hesitation. “Environmental Numbness” happens when a person tunes out issues unrelatable or repeated warnings. “Spatial” and “Temporal Discounting” assume problems don’t need to be addressed if it’s worse other places or potentially too far in the future. “Optimum Bias” occurs when someone believes everything will work out without personal contribution.

Depleted “Perceived Behavioral Control” and “Self-efficacy” are similar forms of inaction. The former person believes they can’t do anything to change global warming and the later thinks their efforts won’t matter. “Confirmation Bias” happens when a person limits their media to ones that agree with their beliefs. This can reinforce belief that only their opinion is correct. Finally, when “Time Is Money” sustainable actions are given less time for fear of losing money.

There are people that are genuinely ignorant to climate change or unaware of solutions, but there are ways to help people visualize climate change and slay this dragon. For example, artists have created visuals that scale the loss of glaciers to numbers of cars.  Schools are implementing programs like gardens and composting that help children grasp concepts. Inversion pollution is a powerful visual. However, research shows that too much data and scary facts makes people recoil (Environmental Numbness).  Baby steps, leading by example, visuals, and programs that emphasize instant feedback to actions can help people overcome these cognitive blocks.

Recycle Utah, a community nonprofit and drop-off recycling center, provides these weekly tips. Visit recycleutah.org for more information.

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