04/22/2009 02:34 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Your Ungreen Brain Needs More Nature

Fascinating research in the social sciences about climate change and human decision making has turned up some reasons for why as a species we are loath to make smart decisions to respond to a changing earth.

At Columbia University's Center for Research on Environmental Decisions, studies are ongoing about how our perceptions of risk and uncertainty cause us to react to both weather and changing climate.

In the NYT Magazine, reporter Jon Gertner follows the research of Elke Weber and David H. Krantz as it attempts to find clues to how humans, individually and in groups, do or don't make sacrifices for long-term changes.

Guess what? As humans we don't have naturally green brains, i.e. we're likely to approach decision either from an analytical perspective - careful consideration of cost/benefits - or from a more emotional perspective. On an individual basis, that cost/benefit analysis tends to make us go for short-term benefits (or even short-term losses) over long-term changes every time.

In addition, our "worry bin" has only so much space. So if we start worrying about climate change, we might make some personal changes or shifts, but soon enough a new worry will come along (economic dire straits, for example) and push the climate worry a bit in the background.

Here's the good news, however. As groups or communities, if we look at problems from the long-term perspective (rather than beginning with cost-benefit analyses), we are more likely to be able to take hard decisions and be patient as a group, waiting for benefits to roll in at a distant date.

Add this together with Paul Bloom's conclusion in the same NYT Magazine issue that we need more contact with nature for our own human happiness.

Bloom, professor of psychology at Yale, and currently writing a book about pleasure, sees another reason besides the practical for making sure we have clean water, fresh air and good soil. It's the happiness factor natural areas provide. It's a given, for example, that a view of mountains or ocean ups the price of the real estate, and research shows hospital patients get better quicker with a nature view.

"Real natural habitats provide significant sources of pleasure for modern humans, Bloom says in the article. This basic fact about human pleasure is an excellent argument for keeping the real thing."

Add together the fact that in community we can make better decisions for the long-term good with the idea that we need nature for our happiness, and what have you got? Another reason to get outside in any form with your fellow humans today, Earth Day, and enjoy making the natural world better.

Read more at TreeHugger on green brain
::Why Your Brain May Not Be Green
::New Research Shows Cognitive Benefits of Natural Areas
::This is Your Brain on Mass Customization
::Right Brain Terrain: Not Your Corporate Drone's Motivational Poster
::Forget Hot Tubs and Saunas: The Most Relaxing Room is Green

Read more from Graham Hill on Huffington Post
::Should We All Just Drive 35?
::Let"s Do Big Lunch
::Shouldn"t the G20 Just Stay Home, Skype, and Tweet?
::Mass Transit Makes You Skinny