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Green Blog: Inauguration Edition

by Elaine Schwartz    •    Jan 23, 2013    •    546 Views

By Amy Tourgee, guest blogger

Watching the presidential inauguration on Monday was both an inspiring and entertaining event.  Listening to Obama’s inaugural address, I was pretty happy to hear him specifically bring up the country’s need to tackle climate change.  For those of you who were wondering if Beyonce did lip sync the national anthem or trying to catch another glimpse of Michelle’s bangs while her husband was talking, here’s exactly what the POTUS had to say:

“We, the people, still believe that our obligations as Americans are not just to ourselves, but to all posterity.  We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations.”

What I especially loved about this declaration was that he mentioned future generations.  The issue of climate change is unique in the sense that it is a very long-term problem.  On the scale of the history of the earth, global warming is occurring pretty rapidly.  But on a human economic scale, we might not be seeing extremely severe and life-changing effects for another 100 years – or a couple generations down the road.

That is what is frustrating about the perception of climate change in today’s world – it does not seem very urgent.  Sure, it’s a total hot topic – everything is “green” now and we’ve all seen a million headlines about record breaking temperature highs for this past year.  Yet still, many times politically, climate change takes a seat behind more pressing issues.  I am in no way criticizing past political choices, it’s just an interesting observation.

Economic Lesson

This delay of fighting climate change can be further explored by a concept called “hyperbolic discounting.”  Hyperbolic discounting shows a lack of concern for the future in humans.  A human has been shown to strongly prefer getting something today rather than tomorrow and weakly prefer getting something in a year rather than in a year and a day.  Yet when a year has passed, he/she will want that something immediately, creating a time inconsistency problem.  This is especially the case for climate change, a very long-term issue.  It has been a pattern that we have postponed investment in preventing global warming.

So, how much are we willing to spend today in order to provide our great great great grand children a healthy planet?

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