The Oil Drum has an interesting post on the psychology of leaders, arguing that their mindset has important consequences in relation to how they evaluate long-term questions like the future of hydrocarbon resources. The argument there is being made about Peak Oil, but it could just as well be applied to climate change:
Our leaders base decisions on lawyer thinking.
The outcome of a trial is not based on the facts; it is based on what they can convince the jury the facts might be. Likewise the outcome of an election is not based on facts; it is based on what they can convince the electorate the relevant facts, issues and threats might be.
Politicians do not deal in facts. They deal in perception. After years of working this way it becomes a framework in which they think.
The basic point is similar to the old joke about how public figures use statistics rather as drunkards use lamp posts: for support rather than illumination. Furthermore, the awareness that other politicians and politically active groups and individuals will use statistics in this way somewhat debases numerical evidence as a form or empirical awareness about the world.
Another important point is made about the differences between political and objective reality:
Politicians tend to inherently believe that the outcome of an event will depend on people’s perceptions and beliefs about that event. Politicians have very little experience with situations where objective reality is more important to outcome than the subjective perception of the reality.
This tendency is especially damaging when it comes to climate change. Because it progresses at an uncertain rate, it may well be that climate changes slowly while the perceptions of most people remain fairly stable, then changes too quickly for anything low-cost and effective to be done. On a problem characterized by uncertain time frames and potentially strong feedback effects, we need to get out in front of the issue, rather than being led by public or elite political opinion.