Could the brain be the key to humankind avoiding environmental disaster? Ann-Christine Duhaime is a Harvard Medical School professor and neurosurgeon who explored the possibility of the brain affecting our green actions. She studied whether the brain’s drive for material thing and stimulation affected humans getting by with less and impacting the planet.

As humans, we are more likely to hoard or to get more goods then we need immediately. These impulses are controlled by the brain’s reward system, which aided in human survival and reproduction. In the past, more meant bettering your chances of survival, and today that is still the mindset.

The drive for more and bigger material goods have obvious environmental impacts, and these are trends that are speeding up climate change. A lot of people are quick to point fingers to blame us for our greediness and ignorance, among other ugly qualities. Duhaime is different. She’s focused on “assessing people, not [their] character flaws … for what it is about their brains that makes them the way they are.”

What if we changed the way we think? Duhaime thinks it could help with acting sustainably. Rewards don’t have to be just about consumption; they can be pro-social and competitive rewards that encourage you to cut consumption in relation to your fellow people. Who would have thought climate change and changing our behavior in response to it has been challenged by our very own brains?!

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