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Short Term Thinking Is Everyone’s Problem

We have all the science, technology, and power to fix climate change. Why, then, is climate change worsening before our eyes? In our most critical tipping point, we have gone instead with a path that values stock markets and celebrity gossip over one that deals with pollution and global warming. This short term thinking and pleasure seeking attitude may have helped us 12,000 years ago, but our latest challenge - climate change - does not.

Despite our brains’ evolving from 4 to 7 billion years ago, it is still virtually unchanged from that of humans today. This means we have largely lived off our instincts, with other cognitive abilities of evaluation and long-term thought being less developed. As a result, we are very good at responding quickly to an emergency, but hopelessly inept (both as individuals and as a society) at facing threats or opportunities perceived as abstract or distant. Simply put: we prefer reactionary action over preemptive action.

Our affinity for focusing on the short-term means that most people continue to assume environmental and economic conditions will remain constant, despite frequent warnings to the contrary. For example, a survey by Graham et al. (2005) found that 78% (out of 401) of financial executives would sacrifice long-term value to smooth earnings. The economist Lazonick, meanwhile, noted that S&P 500 companies paid out over 90% of their net income in dividends and share repurchases, leaving little available for long-term investment.

These companies are shirking the clear and urgent message that we must act now before this climate catastrophe becomes irreversible; they are missing the chance to look at the climate crisis through a human rights lens and act on the belief that by working together we can create a better future for present and future generations. If we want to see meaningful change, we must become aware of the damage we are doing to the environment and demand action to change that.

True, we may not be able to speed up evolution to foster skilful long-term thinking, but we can definitely set systems in place to combat short-termism. We will need a complete upheaval of the global system; no longer are the current systems of GDP and quarterly reports sustainable, rather, we need completely new policies that focus on climate justice for all - government support for everyday people from all walks of life.

As Greta Thunberg says: “Now that is up to you and me. Because no one else will do it for us.“

Written by Kadence Wong

Edited by Aiswarya Rambhatla

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