What does our perception of time have to do with climate change? A lot.

Boats are pushed up on a causeway after Hurricane Ian passed through the area on September 29, 2022 in Fort Myers, Florida. Research suggests support for some climate policies increases immediately after climate-driven disasters such as Ian. Joe Raedle/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Joe Raedle/Getty Images

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Most people are focused on the present: today, tomorrow, maybe next year. Fixing your flat tire is more pressing than figuring out if you should buy an electric car. Living by the beach is a lot more fun than figuring out when your house might be flooded by rising sea levels.

That basic human relationship with time makes climate change a tricky problem.

“I consider climate change the policy problem from hell because you almost couldn’t design a worse fit for our underlying psychology, or our institutions of decision-making,” says Anthony Leiserowitz, the director of the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication.

Host Emily Kwong talks to NPR climate correspondent Rebecca Hersher about how our obsession with the present can be harnessed to tackle our biggest climate problems.For more of Rebecca’s reporting, check out How our perception of time shapes our approach to climate change. Curious about how human behavior affects climate change policies or other events in our lives? Email us at ShortWave@NPR.org.
Today’s episode was produced by Thomas Lu with help from Margaret Cirino. It was edited by Gabriel Spitzer and fact-checked by Abe Levine. The audio engineer for this episode was Hannah Copeland.

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