Why is this relevant to discussions of living more sustainably? Most people living in the USA, or Canada or Europe are – by any historical standards – among the richest of all human cultures in terms of material wealth. The combination of environmental risks and limits to continued resource extraction suggest that a tightening of our consumption belts is going to be a necessary trend in coming decades – like it or not. But this loss aversion bias strongly implies that we will not ‘ like it ’ – (unless, perhaps, others seem to be losing more than we are ). The ratchet effect of the wealth, experiences, and living standards we have grown used to won ’ t easily reverse - and almost certainly will not willingly be reversed. We are averse to it. TaaL: There ’ s a huge set of things you don ’ t personally possess – the world and all that ’ s in it. There is a very small set of things, relatively, which you do. Thus, anything you gain is a tiny fraction of what you lust for, while anything you lose is a significant fraction of what you have. In order to more rationally use and conserve your flammable fossils, while at the same time limiting excess planetary heating, some humans have proposed a carbon tax. This makes a large amount of sense yet is considered a political non-starter because such a tax feels like a loss when people hear about it, even if the tax is designed to be 100% rebated through other programs while creating societal benefits. With your species, the only way a carbon tax of any meaning would be acceptable is if most people could be convinced that most everyone else had lost more. I ’ ll add that this phenomenon isn ’ t limited to physical gains and losses but operates on imaginary gains and losses as well. For instance, if humans hear that Elon Musk has decided NOT to colonize Mars due to cashflow, there can be a feeling of loss that this option has been taken away from them, even if the option was a fantasy to begin with. By similar token, the expectation of an afterlife – once instilled at a young age – is nearly impossible for a human to relinquish, even if they are unclear about what it is supposed to be. But nothing has actually been lost. In contrast, you lack an ‘ all humans alive today are lottery winners ’ bias, which is unfortunate.
The Bottom Line: We disproportionately care about losses more than gains.
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