“… humans … are bogged down by their unique ability to rationalize and reason.”
Guest essay by Eric Worrall
Raghu Murtugudden, executive director of the Chesapeake Bay Forecasting System at the University of Maryland Earth System Science Interdisciplinary Center (ESSIC), and a professor in the Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Science, believes that the ability of humans to think is a disadvantage, when responding to climate change.
According to Professor Murtugudden (comparing our response to climate change to finding cheese in a maze);
“… mice can sense the coming change. Before it’s too late, they run through the maze and find new cheese. The men, however, fail to notice the subtle collapse in the cheese supply until it’s nearly too late. Haw, the more proactive of the little men, realizes that the cheese has all but disappeared and sets out in the maze to find new cheese. He learns a number of lessons along the way and does manage to both find new cheese and enjoy it as much as the old. Hem, however, remains unconvinced that the cheese will disappear. He also concludes that even if the cheese were to disappear, he wouldn’t like the new cheese anyway.
The moral of the story is that even creatures like mice — with their simple brains — are biologically tuned to notice and rapidly respond to change, whereas humans — the most evolved life form — are bogged down by their unique ability to rationalize and reason. Some members of the species even resort to wholesale denial that change is well underway, even when said change is caused by their own actions.
The parallels to humans and climate change are rather obvious. Humans are constantly seeking more and more comforts, even at the cost of irreversibly damaging the planet.
Less fortunate humans may, in fact, be more in tune with environmental changes and quicker to adapt, even when the changes result from over-consumption by the rich. Some humans are more sensitive to changes, even if they are late in responding to them. Others may resort to complete denial of the change itself or deny the need for action to avert change, especially when the thermostat is being discreetly adjusted.”
Its difficult to know how to respond to that – I always thought our ability to reason is the asset which has facilitated our greatest achievements, a gift which has allowed humans to adapt to and thrive in an extraordinary range of climatic conditions.
Perhaps Professor Murtugudden should be more careful in future, about checking the use-by date on his cheese.