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Why Humans Fail to Act on Climate Change

Many people know about the dangers of global warming, but only few act.

The explanation, says Professor Andreas Ernst of the University of Kassel, has two parts. One, human beings get stubbornly comfortable in their habits. On the other, the human species is biologically programmed to act in its own best interests - and its members aren't very different from common rats on that point.

In addition, the overwhelming size and abstract nature of the concept - climate - dwarf any idea that an individual could have an impact through his or her actions.

In short, it's part of natural human psychological behavior to repress the consequences of climate change, Ernst said in an interview.

"We are, well, a little like rats, programmed by evolution to find advantages and exploit them," said Ernst, who is also spokesman for a panel on environmental psychology in the German Society of Psychology. "Short term advantages are preferred to the long-term variety."

Ernst made his remarks as a scientific panel prepared to release a United Nations report on global warming, part of a massive effort every six or seven years by the UN to gather consensus among thousands of world scientists.

This year's series has already raised alarm bells with the direst projections yet that polar ice caps will melt, sea levels will rise and one-sixth of the world population - including 1 billion people in Asia - will face severe water shortages by century's end.

But despite the severe warnings, humans are reluctant to change.

Roman Seidl, a fellow environmental psychologist at Kassel University, notes the widespread attitude: "My individual contribution on the climate issue is so small and irrelevant on a global scale - it doesn't matter whether I do something or don't."

In fact, it is true that reducing carbon emissions blamed for global warming depends on changing behavior acro
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