Professor Ingmar Persson, University of Gothenburg and The Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics
Abstract: Human psychology has been designed by evolution to enable humans to live in small-scale societies with technological means of affecting only the immediate environment. For instance, humans are most concerned about a few individuals they personally know and the imminent future, and they feel more responsible for what they cause by themselves rather than in concert with others. These features make human beings rather ill-suited to come to terms with environmental problems such as climate change which arise because they live in huge societies with millions of citizens and a sophisticated technology which allows them to exercise influence all over the world and far into the future. The political system of liberal democracy seems badly equipped to rectify this situation, since elected politicians will be reluctant to risk the goodwill of the majority by making short-term welfare cutbacks to attain long-term goals. Nonetheless, it should not be thought that human beings are biologically determined to exploit natural resources to exhaustion because more than any other animal humans also are capable of adapting their behaviour in light of their experience.