Talking in the Present, Caring for the Future: Language and Environment

PublishedJuly 2017
PublisherBankwest Curtin Economics Centre
ISBN978-1-925083-62-0
ISSN2202-2791
Number of Pages33
Number17/3

This paper identifies a new source that explains environmental behaviour: the presence of future tense marking in language. We predict that languages that grammatically mark the future affect speakers’ intertemporal preferences and thereby reduce their willingness to address climate change. We first document that countries with a language that requires future tense marking adopt less stringent climate change policies. We then show that individuals within countries behave consistently: speakers of languages with future tense marking are less likely to adopt environmentally responsible behaviours. The results suggest that there may be deep and surprising obstacles for attempts to address climate change.