These findings indicate that to get on board with climate change mitigation people require a powerful charge on the emotional and instinctive level--a sense of hypothetical anticipation or "making real" more akin to imagination than reason. Thankfully, there is one conventional habit where we imaginatively anticipate uncertain risks and put some amount of resources into mitigating their worst effects. This habit is when we buy insurance. The idea of insurance moreover appeals to pre-existent, ideologically-broad values around prudence, security, and responsibility for one's family.*
Dana Nuccitelli has aptly wondered why people are not yet seeing climate change as a risk to be insured against like others. Meanwhile, a new form of insurance policies has recently emerged that protects corporations as well as individuals against climate change risks. I propose governments would likewise design more effective climate policies if they treated climate change as a risk to be insured against, providing people with trade-offs of personal security and family responsibility that can be obtained for a relatively defined premium, rather than as a field of utterly uncertain risks and indefinite costs--as well as infinite guilt.** As with insurance, paying now for mitigation will permit societies to pay less than they will have to later for adaptation.
To get the insurance frame across, it could be proposed that some of the revenue from policies like carbon pricing be put into concrete prevention and adaptation schemes such as flood barriers as well as into guaranteed government assistance for individuals for certain types of climate change effects.*** As a first step, meanwhile, goverments will have to assume leadership in helping make climate change real for their citizens, presenting it as an eventuality with definite risks--the only mystery being where they will be distributed, as with insurance--rather as a murky and hypothetical prospect that keeps the psychological option wide open for evasion and denial.
*As commenters have helpfully told me, the proposal that climate change costs to citizens be framed in the same way as insurance--as a prudent measure to minimize the impacts of explicit risks--has quite recently been made, here and here.
"Using the language of [explicit] risk...shifts public debate away from the idea that decisions should be delayed until conclusive proof or absolute certainty is obtained (a criterion that may never be satisfied), towards timely action informed by an analysis of the comparative costs and risks of different choices and options (including doing nothing)” (Painter 2013).
"People understand low probability, high consequence events and the need to address them. For example, they buy fire insurance for their homes even though the probability of a fire is low, because they understand that the financial consequence is too great. In the same way, climate change for some may be perceived as a low risk, high consequence event, so the prudent course of action is to obtain insurance in the form of both behavioral and technological change." (Hoffman 2012).
**Of course, the risks remain uncertain and the necessary premiums remain indefinite, but I think governments can gradually work to stabilize terms as information such as that provided by IPCC models continues to stream in. It is only once these terms become somewhat concretized that I think stable policies can emerge that sustain tacit support from citizenries. A good benchmark is the model showing that if all countries taxed carbon at the rate of Norway, enough efficiency measures would follow to keep global warming under 2 degrees.
***As has been suggested to me, the potential imbalance between prospective revenues and eventual costs will have to be deftly managed to make people feel secure that, as with other social programs--E.I, pensions, and government bonds--there will be liquidity when it counts.