We don’t feel deaths equally

2017-01-26

in Psychology, Rants, The environment

The January 21st issue of The Economist provides another strong example of how poorly our emotions serve us where it comes to evaluating and responding to abstract threats. They say:

NOx emissions cause the premature deaths of an estimated 72,000 Europeans a year.

This is in the context of carmakers like Volkswagen using software to cheat on NOx emissions tests for their diesel cars.

Now, if anything direct and intentional (terrorism, a criminal gang, etc) killed 72,000 people in one year in Europe it would be WWIII. The way in which we obsess about tiny direct threats from serial killers to plane hijackers while feeling little emotional impact from pollution-induced deaths and threats like climate change profoundly damages our ability to make sensible policy choices.

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

alena January 26, 2017 at 3:36 pm

Maybe it is the way we are socialized.

. January 26, 2017 at 6:24 pm

The biggest study to date shows that 100 million people in developing countries will die from fossil-fuel combustion between now and 2030 – some from the effects of global warming, but more from breathing smoke. Beijing closed its schools in mid-December because the smog was too bad to go outside; in New Delhi, an estimated half of the city’s 4.4 million children now have irreversible lung damage. That’s why China and India are trying desperately to move away from fossil fuels: China’s coal consumption has begun to slide, and India has announced a moratorium on new coal-fired power plants.

alena January 26, 2017 at 7:35 pm

I guess what we don’t see, we worry about less. In China and India people are dying of lung disease, cancer and other pollution related hazards. It has reached such a state that something has to be done. We are pretty blase about it in North America and with the new leader south of us, we are moving towards the absurd and tragic when it comes to the environment.

Oleh February 11, 2017 at 3:05 am

Premature deaths from poor life-style decisions do not get the headlines that are warranted. The media, which focusses on the sensational and unusual, find it much harder to cover a story that requires more effort.

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