On @smartplanet @tvjohnrennie critiques assessments that the climate problem is mainly in the mind. My reaction: The opening line brought back memories of posts past, including “Is The Climate Problem in Our Heads?”

I disagree with John on some points and do feel that the social and behavioral impediments are far greater for energy choices than they were for social issues like civil rights or slavery.

My sense of the path forward was laid out in a post on “Real-World Steps on Energy and CO2,” which focused on the glaring opportunities to get started, nudge-style, and then seduce with success, as a prelude to building to the harder long-term transitions that would be required to stabilize CO2 concentrations at any reasonable number. This is one of the reasons I see scant support for hard thresholds on gases or temperature.

As I wrote recently:

 The task on emissions is twofold — to bend the curve of gas releases using regulations, incentives, education and standards, but (more importantly, to me) also to build the intellectual infrastructure and innovative, globally-collaborative culture that will be required for the next generation to take that curve down toward zero even as humanity’s energy needs continue to rise. My emphasis on the second component derives from all the biases toward the quick fix that are built into the human brain, political institutions and culture. 

 This is in line with the thinking of the late Stephen Schneider, as described here in an excerpt from the “real world” post:

 I’ve cited the late Stephen H. Schneider several times on his notion of getting the sequence of initiatives right to build public support for the energy quest that’d be needed to foster progress while limiting risks of disruptive climate change. I’ll do so again here. He made this point most clearly while a “thinker in residence” in Adelaide, Australia, in 2006:

It is important that the sequencing of policy steps for achieving the emissions target build from obvious win-wins to more difficult steps such as establishing a shadow price for carbon.

This approach is different than the standard message of environmental campaigners that “solving” global warming is only a matter of political will. It’s way, way bigger than that, particularly with the China-India factor. 

And of course, climate is hardly the only issue that’s a bad fit for our reflexes and investment decisions. We get earthquake risk wrong all the time, even with far clearer knowledge of what’s coming, as described here and here.