Okay, this is pulled from a global warming column but substitute "corrections sentencing" where you find "oil depletion" or "peak oil" or "climate change" and see if you don't get a good idea about what we face in moving forward on sound policy in our area, too, and how we should respond.
THE BOTTOM LINE
1. Education about oil depletion and climate change is not enough. We need to incorporate how people react to information. If companies like Daimler Chrysler are using neuromarketing to sell more cars, an equal effort needs to be made on the environmental and energy front.
2. Two of the planet's largest problems, climate change and peak oil, are in the future. As such, our evolutionary derived penchant to focus on the present lacks the discipline to think and act ahead. Either accelerating the expected 'bad news' or making the expected bad news 'worse' are both ways to increase the weight we place on these events.
3. We can't easily reduce our discount rates. But having a team of middle aged female monks running the climate change team may not be a bad idea (I'm only half kidding).
4. There are so many scientific disciplines running parallel courses. Somehow we need to integrate them into a logical framework that makes sense and is practical. I don't expect President Bush will soon appoint a Secretary of Darwinian Ecology but the time is now to combine the sciences.
5. Though it's difficult, we can learn from our mistakes. Those on Easter Island, Rome and the Mayas and Aztecs were neurally not dissimilar from us. To recognize they valued the present even when they could forsee the future (cutting down the last tree) means we have to acknowledge ahead of time that our intelligence will be trumped by our emotion, and plan accordingly.
5b. In writing this post, it dawned on me that much of the work we do in raising peak oil awareness is received by readers as kind of an interesting horror movie. Yes - tell me more scary facts and I will sit at my computer and read them. But its the rational brain that is receiving this information. And it's not budging behavior much.
5c. Understanding that stress increases peoples discount rates suggests to me that the events surrounding peak oil (and perhaps climate change) will reach an inflection point. We need to hit the emotional triggers well ahead of peak oil. Once people are stressed and things become difficult, accessing peoples rational minds will be all the harder. Plus, greater awareness of resource depletion might trigger increased consumption, as people try to get their share.
6. I think steep discount rate is another term for addiction. Humans are addicted to life. Some more than others.