How Our Tendency to Delay Threatens Our Sustainable Future

How Our Tendency to Delay Threatens Our Sustainable Future

The Art of Procrastination

We've all been there. The deadline looms, yet we find ourselves drawn to distractions, postponing the inevitable. This tendency, known as "hyperbolic discounting," is a human quirk that can have significant consequences, especially when it comes to crucial issues like climate change.

The Coalition's recent proposal to delay some of the work needed to achieve Australia's 2030 emissions reduction target exemplifies this behavior. While they remain committed to the net-zero target by 2050, they want to push back the immediate actions, mirroring our inclination to put off unpleasant tasks.

Economists have long understood the concept of a "discount rate," which explains why we value things less the further they are in the future. However, hyperbolic discounting takes this a step further. Our discount rate isn't constant; it dramatically increases as deadlines approach.

Imagine a task you need to complete. You might be willing to accept a 5% reduction in reward if you could postpone it by a year. But as the deadline nears, you might be willing to sacrifice almost anything to gain even a few more days. This drastic shift in your discount rate is the essence of hyperbolic discounting.

The Coalition's approach to emissions reduction mirrors this behavior. They argue that delaying action won't ultimately affect the 2050 net-zero goal, as technological advancements like nuclear power will make things easier later. However, this argument ignores the potential for cost overruns and the need to address emissions from sectors beyond electricity.

Furthermore, delaying action risks missing the 2030 target, which is crucial for staying on track to achieve net-zero by 2050. While the government claims to be on track for a 42% reduction, the reality is that meeting the 43% target remains a challenge.

Hyperbolic discounting is a powerful force, tempting us to put off difficult choices. However, in the face of climate change, we cannot afford to succumb to this tendency. We must act now, even if it means facing hard choices, to ensure a sustainable future for generations to come.