Bounded rationality and finite processing capacity result in homo sapiens focusing attention first on the here and now. But many individual and social problems require attention to future costs and benefits, with climate change the most urgent challenge for decisions that fully and justly weigh immediate and certain costs and benefits of business-as-usual or greenhouse gas mitigation efforts against delayed, risky, and often disputed costs and benefits. Psychological theories from prospect theory to hyperbolic discounting and query theory predict that future costs of business-as-usual and future benefits of GHG mitigation efforts will typically get short thrift in such decisions. I present data for three interventions that focus greater attention on future consequences and thus provide entry points for choices that better balance short- and long-term goals and objectives. (1) In trade-offs between immediate and delayed consumption, discounting of future consequences is reduced when choice options with future benefits are made the default and when decision makers are prompted to consider arguments for such choices first (Weber et al., 2007). (2) Individual and country-level data show that citizens may use perceptions of their country’s age to predict its future continuation, with longer pasts predicting longer futures, and longer futures justifying greater investments into sustainability. Thus, framing a country as a long-standing entity can promote pro-environmental behavior (Hershfield, Bang, & Weber, 2014). (3) Finally, individuals’ motivation to leave a positive legacy can be leveraged to increase engagement with climate change and other environmental problems (Zaval, Markowitz & Weber, 2015).
Elke Weber is the Gerhard R. Andlinger Professor in Energy and the Environment and Professor of Psychology and Public Affairs at Princeton University. Her research models decision-making under uncertainty and time delay in financial and environmental contexts from a psychological and neuroscience perspective. Her expertise in the behavioral decision sciences has been sought out by advisory committees of the National Academy of Sciences on Human Dimensions in Global Change, an American Psychological Association Task Force that issued a report on the Interface between Psychology and Global Climate Change, and Working Group III for the 5th and 6th Assessment Report of the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). She is past president of the Society for Neuroeconomics, the Society for Judgment and Decision Making, and the Society for Mathematical Psychology. She is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Psychological Association, the Association for Psychological Science, the Society for Risk Analysis, the Society for Experimental Psychology. She received the Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award from the Society for Risk Analysis and was also elected to the German National Academy of Sciences.