2000 U. Ill. L. Rev. 299 (2000)
The Psychology of Global Climate Change

handle is hein.journals/unilllr2000 and id is 309 raw text is: THE PSYCHOLOGY OF GLOBAL
Jeffrey J. Rachlinski*
In its attempt to address the threat of global climate change, so-
ciety has struggled to reach a consensus regarding the need for pre-
ventive measures. Professor Rachlinski describes the threat of global
climate change as a unique commons dilemma and explains that
various psychological phenomena of judgment render it unlikely that
society will be able to respond effectively to the threat. After consid-
ering the effects of biased assimilation, loss aversion, and other psy-
chological processes, the author explains that an innovativeapproach
is necessary to properly address the dilemma of global climate
Specifically, the author examines the prospect of governmental
intervention through taxes or regulations as well as the development
of collective norms against combustion of fossil fuels. Because the
above-mentioned psychological phenomena hinder each of these po-
tential remedies, the author ultimately concludes that the only remedy
for the problem of global climate change is an elimination of the
commons dilemma itself. The author suggests that by developing al-
ternatives to fossil fuels, the problem of global climate change can be
addressed in spite of social and cognitive limitations.
More than fifty years ago, Judge Learned Hand asserted that a rea-
sonable person takes any precaution that is less burdensome than the
probability that some harm will occur multiplied by the magnitude of the
harm.' Presumably, a reasonable society does the same. That society
should be willing to undertake precautions to avoid catastrophic events,
even if they are unlikely to occur. Over the past few decades, however,
social and cognitive psychologists studying human judgment and choice
have learned that reasonable people sometimes fail to make reasonable
* Associate Professor of Law, Cornell Law School.
The author received valuable comments on this paper from participants in the symposium, Inno-
vations in Environmental Policy, sponsored by the University of Illinois Law Review and the Univer-
sity of Illinois Institute of Government and Public Affairs.
1. United States v. Carroll Towing Co., 159 F.2d 169, 173 (2d Cit. 1947).

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