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Adam Alter: Why Do We Ignore The Lingering Threat Of Global Warming?
Environment | December 12, 2012

Adam Alter: Why Do We Ignore The Lingering Threat Of Global Warming?

"Ninety-eight percent of experts agree that the globe is warming, that humans are contributing to the effect, and that our failure to act now will contribute to death, disease, injury, heat waves, fires, storms, and floods," Adam Alter writes in the Huffington Post. "Despite these dire forecasts, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney—both of whom believe in human-driven climate change—conspicuously omitted global warming from this year's menu of election issues." He adds: "If global warming were the work of an evil engineer, he'd deserve congratulations on a job well done." According to the Drunk Tank Pink author, many of us don't view global warming as being as big of a threat as a volcano or meteor strike—even though there is sound scientific evidence to suggest that we should. In the article, Alter, who is an Assistant Professor of Marketing and Psychology at NYU, provides three reasons why global warming doesn't startle the human psyche and why we often treat it as an afterthought.

1) The Hollywood Test: "According to The Hollywood Test, the content of our culture's films reflects our most vivid fears," he explains. There are very few films out there that show us the devastating effects of global warming in the same way that films document the destruction caused by floods, earthquakes, pandemic outbreaks or volcanic eruptions. "Its precise consequences aren't vivid enough," he says, and as such, we have yet to see global warming as a threat as big as the ones that we see in the movies.

2) Global Warming Progresses Too Slowly: "People just aren't engineered to take slow-moving threats seriously," he says. "We're a bit like the fabled frog in a pot of water on the stove, who sits by idly while the water's temperature slowly rises to boiling point." This frog eventually meets his demise because his danger-radar doesn't recognize the slowly rising temperature as a threat—until it's too late. "The analogy to humans sitting by while the planet warms couldn't be more obvious," he adds.

3) There's Plenty Of Daily And Seasonal Noise Distracting Us From Rising Temperatures: While there is evidence to show that the planet's overall temperature is rising, we are experiencing pockets of very cold weather—making it hard for us to believe that the world really is getting hotter. "Freakishly cold days distract [us] from the unmistakable warming trend," Alter argues, explaining that we are less likely to believe that global warming will truly heat up the planet when we are still experiencing cold days.
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