In the second chapter of The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values , Sam Harris describes the strange phenomenon in human psychology where we care less about a problem as the number of victims rises. When we see one little girl who is starving, we generally feel more concern and willingness to help than we do when it is her and her brother, or her and her entire village.
This seems deeply irrational. Bigger problems should motivate a larger desire to help. Perhaps it reflects our implicit awareness of our own limitations. Helping one little girl may be within our power in a way that helping a large group is not. Still, this quirk seems likely to be very damaging. If we don’t feel a strong moral impulse in the face of a big problem, we are unlikely to band together and provide a big solution.
That applies directly to climate change. It may also have something to do with our sometimes strange notions about the value of avoiding extinction and our thinking about apocalypse.