Materialism, Nurturance, and Global Warming

I have been writing a lot about the fact that behavioral scientists have made a great deal of progress on how to prevent virtually all of the most common and costly problems of human behavior, including depression, crime, and academic failure. In essence, we have figured out how to help families, schools, and to some extent communities, become less coercive and more nurturing. More loving societies are realistically within our grasp.

But the progress is threatened by global warming. 

Here are the predicted consequences of a 1 degree Celsius increase in global temperatures, as enumerated by the National Academy of Sciences.

• 5-10% changes in precipitation across many regions
• 3-10% increases in the amount of rain falling during the heaviest
precipitation events
• 5-10% changes in streamflow across many river basins
• 15% decreases in the annually averaged extent of sea ice across the Arctic Ocean, with 25% decreases in the yearly minimum extent in September
• 5-15% reductions in the yields of crops as currently grown
• 200-400% increases in the area burned by wildfire in parts of the
western United States

I don’t know if achieving the nurturing environments I envision will contribute to humans working together to prevent the two degree increase that is likely over the next 90 years, but there is some evidence that suggests that nurturing environments could contribute to preventing global warming.

Tim Kasser has done a number of studies of materialistic values and their impact on wellbeing. People who are strongly motivated to be rich and/or famous tend to have greater emotional problems two years later. Some of the studies Tim has done show that threat increases people’s endorsement of material values. Think of it from an evolutionary perspective. In a dangerous world, the first thing to do to survive is make sure you have the material possessions to do so. It seems likely therefore that increasing nurturance will decrease the number of people who pursue materialistic values.

And guess what? Materialism is driving global warming as more and more people aspire to have all the things that can be produced.

There is an interesting piece by Graham Hill in the New York times today. He suggests that we might be happier with less stuff. I recommend it.

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