What unsustainable behavior needs to change: In an episode of The Simpsons, when Homer is confronted with his responsibilities, he decides to avoid them with the words: “That’s a problem for Future Homer. Man, I don’t envy that guy.” Only to then pour vodka into a jar of mayonnaise and drink it.
What might seem to be the typical behavior of Homer, is not untypical behavior of human beings. We act as if we only live in the present. We smoke, although we are aware it might cause lung cancer. We eat that whole chocolate bar, although we know that it will make us fat and unhealthy. We drive that SUV, although we know (well at least the majority of us) that it will drive excessive amounts of CO2 emissions into the atmosphere. Yet, we still do it.
This effect is called Hyperbolic Discounting. The perception that the present is more important than the future, impedes our ability to take action on problems that feel distant and slower. Thus we tend to choose a smaller but sooner (now) reward over a larger but later reward. Like your everyday processed meat cravings, that may damage your heart’s health in the long-run. We discount the value of a healthy Future Me in favor of a happy young Today Me.
Same goes for our Future Climate. It is something far away, very abstract. Additionally Climate change is slow moving, you don’t immediately see your impact when you change a behavior like stopping eating meat. All that makes us like: Why should I care about it?
This short-term “thinking” is a relic of our old days as human beings. It’s from a time when evolution told us to replicate, to have as many offspring as possible, but not necessarily to stay healthy or keep our world a great place to live in.
The Green Nudge: Sitting on one of the elevated benches might not have an immediate effect on your behavior. But the benches make future consequences visible. It makes the Future Me meet the Today Me. For some it could have an effect that affects their behaviour: they might use public transportation more often, instead of their car; they throw away less food; they eat a little less meat or they don’t take short-distance flights, but the train.