Climate Change

Status quo bias and climate destruction

Writing in the New York Times, Pulitzer Prize winning science and technology journalist Matt Richtel explained human aversion to creativity. His words may explain why senior bureaucrats and politicians cling to outdated energy policies despite new technologies with fewer destructive side effects:

Research has found that we actually harbor an aversion to creators and creativity; subconsciously, we see creativity as noxious and disruptive, and as a recent study demonstrated, this bias can potentially discourage us from undertaking an innovative project

“We have an implicit belief the status quo is safe,” said Jennifer Mueller, a professor of management at the University of San Diego and a lead author on the 2012 paper about bias against creativity.

In British Columbia, hydropower and fossil fuels have been prime sources of energy throughout the lives of decision makers. Attachment to those supplies is reassuring, despite soaring economic and environmental costs of mega dams, oil, and natural gas. Meanwhile, the prices of clean alternatives plummet but leaders resist change.

Education consultant Kendra Cherry wrote about status quo bias:

Change can be a scary thing for many people, which is perhaps why many tend to prefer that things simply stay the way they are. In psychology, this tendency is known as the status quo bias, a type of cognitive bias in which people exhibit a preference for the way things are currently. When changes do occur, people tend to perceive them as a loss or detriment.

The status quo bias can make people resistant to change, but it can also have a powerful effect on the decisions they make.

An article in the journal Human Affairs expands the concept:

Inertia processes are seen as dynamic components that slow down or hinder changes towards more pro-environmental behaviour, or hinder environmentally responsible decision-making. 

While scientific consensus demands reduction to carbon emissions be made now or never, status quo bias explains why decision makers resist conversion to clean renewables. By directing yearly subsidies worth tens of billions of dollars to fossil fuel producers, senseless leaders subvert the public interest.

Tenacious adherence to old methods of energy creation ensures substantial economic and environmental damage and builds a path to human extinction.

Categories: Climate Change, Energy

8 replies »

  1. Two of the most effective antidotes for the status quo are emergencies and youth.

    One could expect then, that the combination of our youth and the fossil-fuelled climate change emergency should work to break the fossil fuel status quo.

    The emergency, the status quo, and our youth only exist because of us old folk, although we can only be proud of one of those elements. And having proven we aren’t up to the task we can only hope we’ve left that element enough time.


  2. Meme on Facebook: picture of Grace Hopper with the legend: “The most dangerous words on the planet are “We’ve always done it this way.” “


  3. Many countries have and continue to make major reductions in their greenhouse gas emissions. Do these countries have fewer “senior bureaucrats and politicians (who) cling to outdated energy policies despite new technologies with fewer destructive side effects.”?

    It seems improbable that Canada is blessed with more than our fair share of such problematic senior bureaucrats. However, enough of our senior bureaucrats (Liberal and Conservative) appear to be firmly captured by the fossil fuel industry; as are Canada’s irresponsible big banks who continue with risky lending to the fossil fuel industry. There’s clearly more to the picture than “aversion to creativity.”

    As these charts make clear, we (Canada) consistently show up at the most-polluting end of the rankings — both for how much climate harm we cause and for how shockingly little we’ve done to rein it in.

    For example, five of the nations with the largest percentage of emissions cuts — Estonia (-31 per cent), Finland (-30 per cent), Denmark (-29 per cent), United Kingdom (-26 per cent), and Sweden (-21 per cent) — all saw their economies grow as fast, or faster, than Canada.

    If other countries can make serious and meaningful reductions in greenhouse gas emissions (carbon pollution) while advancing their economies, so can Canada. However, after 30+ years of dangerous foot-dragging, we have zero wiggle room for our government’s favorite inactivity — continuing procrastination, while overpromising and under delivering.

    Canada’s government(s) must step out of their comfort zone.
    Individual Canadians can only do so much (as the fossil fuel industry knows all too well).


    • Alex, you contribution is much appreciated. Today you added an important element that I failed to include.

      When I first read the NY Times article, it struck me as a partial explanation for NDP proceeding with Site C. I think rewarding vested interests and ignorance of renewable technologies were important but incomplete.

      I gave too little emphasis to federal and provincial governments being, as you say, “firmly captured by the fossil fuel industry.” You correctly note the too-close relationships between fossil fuel interests and those charged with regulating them.

      And of course the massive involvement of Canada’s financial sector might be the single largest impediment to climate action in Canada.

      Thanks again. Your comment improves my work.


  4. I’ve always admired Barry Saxifrage’s National Observer important articles on the climate crisis, as they’re accompanied by stunning, meticulous graphs which obviously help in the visualization of the unmistakable larger patterns and trends. You too use graphs to similar great effect in many of your articles.

    I too will never understand why the BC NDP leader buckled to perpetuate the madness of the Site C boondoggle.

    Adding to BC’s massive public debt to flood farmland better than what we have in the lower Fraser Valley — not to mention destruction of critical wildlife habitat, while building a dam we don’t need (better, much less expensive alternatives available) in a valley full of deep, unstable silty parent materials, fed by rivers carrying massive volumes of fine-textured sediments. . .

    The fact that BC-based Professional Engineers are working on Site C leads me to believe they’re interpreting their professional code of ethics rather loosely — where there’s money to be made.

    For example: “1. hold paramount the safety, health, and welfare of the public, including the protection of the environment and the promotion of health and safety in the workplace;” (bold emphasis added)


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