How Neuroscience Explains the Climate Risk Divide

How Neuroscience Explains the Climate Risk Divide

Kris De Meyer

16 years: Neuroscientist

Climate scientists are terrified about climate change. The markets? Not so much. Join Kris De Meyer as he explores why financial markets aren't responding to the threats of climate change.

Climate scientists are terrified about climate change. The markets? Not so much. Join Kris De Meyer as he explores why financial markets aren't responding to the threats of climate change.

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How Neuroscience Explains the Climate Risk Divide

7 mins 25 secs

Overview

Broadly speaking, climate scientists are in a state of panic about climate change while financial markets are not. This can be explained by neuroscience. Our brains are 'expectation machines' designed for jumping to conclusions, based on prior experience and repeated exposure to perceptual inputs, events, information and ways of thinking. Different professional expertise means different expectations, and that can then lead to wildly different interpretations of the same events, facts and evidence.

Key learning objectives:

  • Outline the climate risk divide

  • Identify the neuroscientific reasons behind the climate risk divide

  • Understand what expectation machine means in neuroscience

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Summary
What is the climate perception risk divide? 
Broadly speaking, climate scientists are in a state of panic while financial markets are not. This is exemplified by Peter Kalmus (climate scientist) and Stuart Kirk (former Global Head of Responsible Investments at HSBC Asset Management). Peter Kalmus said "Everything we love is at risk. I feel terrified for my kids, and terrified for humanity. If everyone could see what I see coming, we would end fossil fuels in just a few years." On the other hand, Stuart Kirk stated "There’s only three options possible to purists like me. Either the risk is negligible - and in that case, there's nothing to worry about. Or maybe it's already in the price. There's millions of us, we all went to school and learnt pricing theory." 

What are the neurological reasons behind the climate risk divide? 
Our brains are 'expectation machines'. The human brain is an engine for jumping to conclusions - based on expectations it builds up about the world. These expectations are shaped by prior experience and repeated exposure to certain kinds of perceptual inputs, events, information and ways of thinking. This means that if you spend a lot of time working in a particular job, you will end up building up a lot of expertise that manifests itself as expectations inside your brain. Different professional expertise means different expectations, and that can then lead to wildly different interpretations of the same events, facts and evidence. This becomes a problem when our 'expectation machine' misfires by misinterpreting new information through pre-existing expectations that aren’t appropriate to the situation.

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Kris De Meyer

Kris De Meyer

Kris De Meyer, a neuroscientist at University College London, believes climate change is a 'people problem' influenced by how people perceive risk, communicate, and think about societal change. The Climate Action Unit aims to bridge communication and understanding gaps between different experts, such as climate scientists and decision-makers in policy, business, and finance, to address climate change and its impact on society.

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