Are they related?

Reading the book Predictably Irrational from Dan Ariely I found myself thinking about the potential connection between procrastination (the delay of an action to a later time) and climate change. We are continuously procrastinating:

  • I can give up smoking tomorrow.
  • This piece of cake looks amazing; I can start the diet tomorrow.
  • I want to save money for a trip to South America, but this shirt can look so good on me.
  • It is the time to have a check-up with the doctor… but I have so many tasks to end.
  • I had a New Year resolution of practicing sport twice a week; I should sign up on a gym next week.

Maybe you recognized yourself in one of these situations, or another idea came up to you. Maybe you are the Super Will hero and you do not feel identified with procrastination but you definitely see the average citizen falls on it. So… if on our daily lives we procrastinate in which seems such a simple thing to control as our own diet, would it be possible that in a country scale or a worldwide scale we are just procrastinating about climate change?

I can picture some leaders meeting and talking about the Environmental issues such as the need of decarbonization. Yes! It sounds nice; it is what is supposed to be said in the year of the sustainable development, but in an executable point of view… What an average citizen as me can do about such a proposal? Trying my best on understanding human nature, I would say I am prone to procrastinate about climate change due to several reasons:

  • I do not feel climate change on my daily life.
  • I do not have any pressure on changing anything.
  • I may receive some call to actions such as recycling but to be honest, I have been raised in a recycling culture and doing it does not seem to be an effort, it is rather the status quo.
  • I am concerned on what seems more proximate to me such as my current unemployment situation.

The only results I see on changing my behaviour towards my energy use at home, is an insignificant decrease on my energy bill.
The list could go on, but I do not want to lose the faith on the human being. I absolutely believe in humanity and our ability to improve and lift up living standards. Therefore, if I procrastinate on my individual small-scale, I kind of understand countries procrastinating on a large scale. I can see the Spanish leader participating on a Climate Change summit, reaching back to the office and saying to him: ‘Well, I can start working on Climate Change tomorrow. I have some important e-mails and meetings to attend.’ Nevertheless, there must be something we can do about it.

When we went to school or at the University, didn’t deadlines work? Yes, they did. If we had to handle in the essay or project on the 25th of November, we may wait until the week, weekend or even night before, but we definitely handled something that day (at least in the majority of cases). Isn’t this useful for climate change policies?

I can imagine some world leaders meeting next September (thanks to the United Nations deadline on the Sustainable Development Goals) and willing to agree on new deadlines for new meetings and goals definitions. Considering our great ability to procrastinate, I hope the new deadlines do not only include meetings and discussions but executable results.

For example, agreeing on reducing the transportation based on fossil fuels to 50% by 2030 seems a measurable and executable goal. And better, if instead of only one deadline, the leaders agree in several steps and deadlines towards a specific goal. In the example, we could have deadlines on 2020, 2025 and 2030 regarding reduction on the use of fossil fuels on transportation.

The complexity of the agreement on climate change policies worldwide may entail long discussions. Definitely, I would not want to be on the leaders’ shoes. Their responsibility is huge and they must have dealing skills which I can’t even imagine of.

However, if procrastination is that common in human behaviour, it definitely must be taken into account in the climate change decisions and policy making:

  • We need specific and measurable goals.
  • We need to divide each goal in several feasible and realistic steps which add some pressure on the goal achievement by using deadlines and even fines or penalties when not meeting the deadlines.
  • The average citizens need to get involved by daily call to actions which can at the same time be measured and be visible.

Therefore and reaching to the end of our reflection, procrastination and climate change are potentially related both in a small and a large scale. I can see a city hall delaying the change of transportation infrastructure in exchange of the short term gratification of investing some money to renew some streets (especially when elections are close). And I can see myself forgetting to switch off the standby button of my television in exchange of the short term gratification of reaching my bed sooner.

Fortunately, innovation and new policy approaches considering our human behaviour can be created in order to fight procrastination and to reach real changes. I am sure this year of sustainable development; the sustainable development goals will be taking into account some ideas related to this reflection and we individually can start detecting when we are procrastinating and starting planning our steps to fight it!